by Len Lear
Northwest Philadelphia is filled with environmentally conscious people who believe in the importance of recycling and practice what they preach. But while we may recycle cans, bottles, newspapers, etc., Jennifer Kirby, 35, who lived in an apartment in East Falls for four years before buying a home in Chestnut Hill in 2014, has taken recycling to a whole new level.
Forget about cans, bottles and newspapers; that’s kid stuff. Jennifer surely has to be the only area resident who recycles fish skins, spent grains from breweries, vegetables from farms that have excess that can’t be moved before they go to landfills, pumpkins after Halloween, fallen apples, etc. You name it, and Jennifer probably recycles it.
Believe it or not, Jennifer uses all of these throwaway items and turns them into pet treats, which she then sells through her business, Piggyback Treats Company. If this isn’t a perfect business to be on the ABC-TV show, “Shark Tank,” in which innovative businesspeople seek investments from billionaire entrepreneurs, I will eat a box of Milk Bones.
Jennifer, who studied baking and pastry arts at the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute and then spent several years as a pastry chef in hotels, bakeries, etc., learned quickly that “in the food industry there is so much waste. It’s very upsetting to see usable items go in the trash, especially when I know what goes into growing and preparing food. Coupling that with the knowledge I gained from growing up on a small farm (in upstate New York), I decided to ‘rescue’ ingredients from going to waste.
“I’ve been working as a professional chef for over 16 years and as a professional dog-spoiler for basically my entire life. Chris (her boyfriend) is a six-year Navy veteran and has been studying dog-spoiling for eight years and counting. We have a passion for animals, and we believe our pets deserve not only to be spoiled, but that we can do so while being conscious of our effect on the local environment.”
Kirby hasn’t yet joined forces with area restaurants, but she plans to do so. Right now she works mainly with small farms and small businesses like breweries, butcher shops and fisheries. When salmon season comes to upstate New York, she stops by cleaning stations and takes the skins that would’ve gone to the local dump, and she cleans and dehydrates them!
“I also buy byproducts from small family farms, things that may typically be difficult for them to sell to their usual customers, or items that they haven’t been asking their butcher to save because they don’t have anyone buying them, like poultry feet and giblets, oxtails, tendons, liver, heart, tongue … the list is always growing!”
Kirby moved to Philly in 2010 to work as a private chef for a Chestnut Hill family. She had previously worked on private yachts and wanted to settle down after traveling non-stop for several years. Prior to the yacht jobs, she was as assistant pastry chef at a hotel in Houston, Texas.
In 2012 Jennifer walked out on the high wire and opened her own business, Kitchens Lane LLC, named for the spectacular winding road in West Mt. Airy where she would take her dog, Candy, to swim in the creek. Kitchens Lane, which is still in business, offers private chef services in area homes or event locations. Kitchens Lane also manufactures the pet treats for Piggyback Treats Company. “We have tentative plans to move into a facility outside of my home, where I make them, by early next year. I can’t wait to move into a facility elsewhere. I barely have a home left!”
The company’s online store opened in March, but less than one percent of their sales have come from the website. “It’s always exciting to see an order come through!”
The products are also available at Bone Appetite in Chestnut Hill, the PA General Store in the Reading Terminal Market and the dog-friendly Wissahickon Brewing Company in East Falls. “I also have meetings with two new potential retailers this week. Thankfully, we’re getting inquiries regularly about shops looking to carry our products.”
Jennifer insisted she cannot wait to grow the business enough to hire employees! “Providing jobs for people will truly be an honor! I know how difficult it can be to find a decent job in the food industry, so I’m very excited to one day be the person providing jobs to hard working chefs.”
Jennifer’s boyfriend, Chris Courter, “acts as my third arm! Lifting, loading, dehydrating is his responsibility, and he responds to emails. He’s also great at networking and remembers faces and names like a pro!”
What is the hardest thing Jennifer has ever done? “Right now, this! I’ve taken incredible financial risk in my personal life to get to this point. Bills have been paid late, which isn’t like me. But thankfully, the business is growing, and I feel that the most difficult days are over, at least for the time being. Have you ever started up a business using only your own money and abilities? It is VERY taxing!”
If Jennifer could meet and spend time with anyone on earth, living or dead, who would it be? “My grandma Kirby. She passed away on my 30th birthday, but I would love to hear her stories of old Germany where she spent her childhood before coming here through Ellis Island. The foods they used to make and eat, how to use every part of the animal and leave no waste. Plus, she always told me to never rely on a man! She gave me positive words of encouragement before I even knew I would need them.”
What are the pluses and minus, if any, of living in Chestnut Hill for Jennifer?
“So many pluses that I can’t list them all! My favorite perks are being able to walk everywhere, most of which I do with my dog, Candy. Endless opportunities for food, drink, shopping. I love being so close to the woods. Minuses: I don’t have a driveway and can only access my backyard via a skinny alley way.”
Jennifer will be selling her all-natural pet treats on Thursdays, July 19, Aug. 16, Sept. 20 and Oct. 18, at the East Falls Beer Garden, 6 to 11 p.m.; on the first Wednesday of each month in front of Bone Appetite from 5 to 8 p.m.; Thursday, June 28, Pet Night at “Stroll The Street” in Manayunk, 5 to 9 p.m., and Sunday, July 8, at Petapalooza in Chestnut Hill.
Their Bier Bones are $5 each or 3/$12; Gluten-Free Bones are $6 each or 3/$15, and Jerky’s are all priced at $8 per ounce. For more information, call 315-427-8262 or visit www.piggybacktreats.com.