By Len Lear
Day after day we read in the press and see on TV story after story about the devastating effects of the pandemic on area businesses — layoffs, furloughs, doors closed, wondering how the rent will be paid, anxiety, loss of sleep, etc. Well, here is a good news story about a Chestnut Hill couple whose business in some ways is actually doing better now than before COVID-19.
That is not a typo. Chestnut Hill residents (since 2014) Jennifer Kirby and Chris Courter, who moved here from East Falls, founded a business in 2017 called Piggyback Treats Company, which works with farmers and restaurants, taking food that would otherwise be thrown out and recycling it in their own home into pet treats. (Ed. Note: I have personally fed them to our dog, who loved them.)
A typical spring would normally have Jennifer and Chris visiting festivals and farmers’ markets to hawk their products, but since that is not possible these days, the couple out of necessity had to ramp up online sales, which have been a bonanza. “We were initially really worried about how the pandemic would negatively affect our business, of course,” said Jennifer, 37, a culinary school graduate who previously worked as a private chef for a Chestnut Hill family.
“Though the original plan for Piggyback Treats Company was to make it into an online brand, that often got pushed to the side as we were always focusing heavily on preparing for shows and events. So this shut-down has really been a blessing in disguise. We’ve been given this moment in time to focus on building up the brand online, learning new tricks about how to do that and connecting with our customers in a different way. If I look at the graph of our sales since early March to now, the pattern looks a lot like the ‘curve’ that is spoken about in the news daily. It’s really amazing to see how our sales have picked up.
“Our customers, the ones who look for us out and about at festivals, have simply gone to our website to buy from us. It really is an incredible feeling for us and an honor to be remembered by our customers. Since early March, our online store revenue has increased by 170 percent!”
Some of Jennifer’s pet treats are made from family farm byproducts for which there is almost no market like poultry feet and giblets, oxtails, tendons, liver, heart, tongue, etc. And when salmon season comes to upstate New York, she stops by cleaning stations and takes the skins that would have gone to the local dump, and she cleans and dehydrates them, eventually turning them into the pet treats.”
Until the pandemic, the Hill couple was also piggybacking with one of Philly’s top restaurants, Poi Dog. “While they are closed now during this pandemic, we’re quickly working our way through the stock of our Ahi Tuna Meal Topper, which we make using the bloodline trimmings from their fresh ahi tuna. We were also fortunate enough to recently become connected with another great award-winning restaurant in the city, Baology. Chef/owner Judi Ni has graciously been setting aside all sorts of usable items like shrimp peels, egg whites, beef fat and more.
“We just connected with them and are testing out new recipes now! More connections are always being made, and we’re eager to connect with another local fish market to help offset what goes to waste, like we did with Top of The Hill until they closed their doors last year. (Hey, all you local restaurants and businesses who have usable, would-be-waste, let’s talk about recycling! This is how we develop new recipes … Thankfully, the pandemic hasn’t affected our ability to buy from and support our farmers. We just picked up a big batch of grass fed black angus organ meats and bones from one of our favorite farms, Thistle Creek in Annville, Pa.”
In 2012 Jennifer started 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), offering private chef services, small scale catering, wedding cakes and more. “Kitchens Lane is the manufacturer of the Piggyback Treats Company goodies,” said Jennifer. “Really, it’s just me either way but operating through two different businesses!”
For more information, visit piggybacktreats.com. You can reach Len Lear at firstname.lastname@example.org