It's a 'Ruff' Life: Hospitality administration grad is proprietor of dog treat and accessories business
By Nathan Wicker '19
Katy Portillo's life has gone to the dogs. After graduating from SFA with a degree in hospitality administration, her career was mapped out — or so she thought — until a cute corgi named Susie helped inspire her to take her career in a different direction.
Portillo '11 has been around the hospitality industry her entire life. Her father is a chef, and her mother is a former caterer. Starting her career as a catering and sales administrator at the historic Hilton Fort Worth, Portillo moved up the ranks working at several hotels. Named by her SFA professors as "Most Likely to Succeed in the Lodging Industry," Portillo continued working in hospitality until 2013 when she and her mother decided to set up a booth at a local community market in Denton.
Looking for a product to sell, they bounced around a few ideas and, in what Portillo calls a "perfect storm" moment, they came up with the idea to make dog treats.
"We felt we could create a recipe that far exceeded store-bought dog treats," Portillo said. "In a perfect storm kind of way, we started brainstorming, and it all just came together."
Portillo's corgi, Susie, served as the inspiration and taste tester, and Portillo's love of alliteration helped them settle on the business' name, Susie's Scrumptious Snacks. With Portillo and her mother busy creating the treats, Susie also had an official role as CFO — chief food officer. If the products pleased Susie's palate, they were placed on the shelves.
Fur kids couldn't get enough of the tasty treats, and their owners lined up at the Denton Community Market to purchase several varieties of dog cookies, including peanut butter blueberry, gluten-free bacon cheddar, ginger-carrot and smoked meat products. Portillo continued to balance working full time in the hospitality industry while growing her business. As she branched out to sell her products at multiple markets and during events in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, it was becoming clear she needed to decide whether her business was just a hobby or whether she wanted to take it to the next level.
In April 2018, she opened a brick-and-mortar shop in Denton, named Susie's Snack Shop. Although Susie passed away in October 2015, Portillo's new furry family members, Simon and Lucy, help fill the void and serve as official mascots.
The shop still offers a mix of dog cookies and smoked meat products, and Portillo has expanded the product line to include an assortment of other items, like grooming supplies, dog cakes and "Bug Away Bites," which help keep pests at bay.
In 2019, Susie's Snack Shop debuted what Portillo calls her "proudest product," a locally milled, private label dog food. "It isn't filled with harmful ingredients. In fact, the food is grain-, soy- and dairy-free and made with non-GMO ingredients," Portillo said.
"I know Katy has gone to great lengths to source the ingredients she uses in her pet food and treat business," said Dr. Chay Runnels, SFA professor and interim director of the School of Human Sciences. "She has taken her passion for customer service to the next level."
The food is a special recipe that comes in chicken, salmon and duck flavors. Portillo said the product played an important role during the shortages many people experienced during the pandemic.
"Since we are considered an essential business, the dog food allowed the doors to remain open," Portillo said. "When grocery stores were out of pet food, and online retailers, such as Amazon and Chewy, weren't able to deliver, lines of desperate dog owners quickly formed outside our shop. We were able to meet the demand and feed their pets."
Just recently The Dallas Observer named Susie's Snack Shop as Best Pet Store, and the Denton Record-Chronicle honored the business in 2020 and 2021 in its Best Pet Supplies Shop category. Though Susie's has experienced impressive growth during the past several years, Portillo said she's just getting started.
"We are in the midst of relocating the store in Denton to a bigger facility to add a do-it-yourself dog wash," Portillo said. "Customers bring in their furry friends and can treat them to a bath while also letting them enjoy their favorite treats."
She's also set her sights on bigger cities, including expanding her business into the Austin and Houston-area markets.