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1st Place: Bar K | Kansas City, MO

Hey, Dogtender

Bar K presents dogs and their humans a business model like no other.

OWNERS: Leib Dodell, David Hensley and Joe Kessinger | WEBSITE: barkdogbar.com | FOUNDED: 2017 | OPENED FEATURED LOCATION : 2018 | AREA: 2 acres | MPLOYEES: 20 full-time, 45 part-time | FACEBOOK: barkdogbar | INSTAGRAM: barkdogbar


SURELY BY COINCIDENCE, friends David Hensley and Leib Dodell brought home puppies on the same day 11 years ago. They began taking out Golden Retriever Ellie and Shepherd mix Bear together once the pups were old enough.

“We brought them to dog parks, but also to places where we had always gone, like patios at coffee shops and bars,” Hensley says.

They soon learned that neither public spaces nor pet-friendly businesses offer an ideal experience. Limited shade and seating, unknown shot histories and a lack of supervision plague dog parks. And pups aren’t allowed to run and play where people eat and drink out.

Hensley and Dodell decided to create the ultimate place for both dogs and their humans. Bar K spans 2 acres on a bank of the Missouri River in Kansas City, MO. It features 68,400 square feet of off-leash parks with two bars and 5,000 square feet of restaurant, coffee shop and bar, with leashed dogs welcome on its outdoor deck and upstairs patio. A grooming salon and small retail section round out the offerings.

“We are an entirely new kind of destination,” the business partners say. “The uniqueness of the Bar K experience is obvious in the joyful, amazed expressions on the faces of our guests.”

Petfinder Park

“Kind of a Dump,” with Potential

Bar K sits on land adjacent to downtown and partially under the Heart of America Bridge. Hensley and Dodell, along with business partner Joe Kessinger, secured it through a long-term lease with the Port Authority of Kansas City.

“It was this big undeveloped property, kind of a dump,” Dodell says, “but we could see it had the potential to be something special.”

Helping them with the transformation was Clockwork Architecture + Design. Together, they incorporated 21 solar panels and 17 repurposed shipping containers into the eco-friendly plans.

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“We’re right on the river and by railroad tracks, thoroughfares that carry shipping containers, so they speak to our location,” Hensley says. “And we love the look of them, the modern industrial vibe.”

That aesthetic carries through to Bar K’s interior, which features concrete floors, wooden tables with metal chairs, and pops of color from oversized dog portraits by photographer Ron Berg. Outside, murals dot container walls, including one sponsored by Bayer that serves as backdrop to the Seresto Stage in the beer garden.

Off-Leash Parks & Dogtenders

Pups who visit Bar K have a variety of outdoor amenities to choose from, among them a Doggie Jungle Gym sponsored by Westlake Ace Hardware, a four-sided climbing wall built by local rock-climbing gym RoKC, and a splash pool shaped like a liquor bottle. Large and small dogs get their own areas, as do puppies. Dogtenders trained in behavioral cues supervise the play.

Many staff members have prior experience working with animals, including at zoos and boarding facilities. All take part in continuing education, both with local trainers and visiting behaviorists.

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“Our dogtenders can look at body language to determine whether a dog is in a good place and really happy, or nervous and not having fun,” Hensley explains. Dodell adds, “They’re taught to spot conflict and redirect.”

Sporting conspicuous blue vests, their presence and caring interactions with pups give owners the confidence to step away without worry for a meal or drink in inside areas where their dogs are not allowed.

Those who stay close certainly don’t miss out, with beverages available at the bars and plenty of seating, from Adirondack chairs to picnic tables with umbrellas. Breed meetups, trivia contests and live music happen in the off-leash areas throughout the week.

Dave Hensley and Leib Dodell

Membership Model

Hensley and Dodell launched Bar K in 2017 at a nearby warehouse. That initial stage allowed them to test their concept and learn operations for such a business — Hensley owned a small business not in the pet industry, and Dodell is a lawyer .

“It was only open on evenings and weekends and had a limit of 50 people, and we were almost always at 50,” Dodell says. “We proved that people crave joyful spaces to bring their dogs.”

The permanent location opened in August 2018, but from the beginning, Bar K has operated under a membership model.

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“We wanted a way to monitor the dogs who came in,” Dodell says. “That is a key value proposition over public dog parks with no gatekeeper.”

Annual memberships cost $225 per dog and $25 per additional dog. Membership recently passed 1,900 households, and Dodell says, “1,500 people can come through on a busy weekend.” Day passes are available with proof of vaccinations.

The Bar K concept has proved such a success that Hensley and Dodell plan on opening in five additional cities. Next up: St. Louis and Oklahoma City.

Judges’ Comments

Beth Miller: Bar K has taken the dog-lover experience to a new level. Their use of happy colors and customer experiences is a great blend of appeal to newcomers and returning guests.

Jane Harrell: In a world where dogs go everywhere, Bar K caters to a future dog-loving community in a way that’s safe, stylish and (I hope) coming to a city near me.

Beke Lubeach: I love the concept. The availability of truly dog-friendly and dog-accepting locations throughout the U.S. is very limited. Having “Dogtenders” is a great perk, and educating kids on-site to interact safely with dogs is amazing.

Leel Michelle: Bar K takes dog and human interaction to the next level. This is one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” ideas that hits you like a ton of bricks! Combining super hip, up-cycled architecture with a playful ambiance full of activities for people and pets, I can’t imagine it’s very easy to get rid of all your guests at the end of the night! Bar K, you had me at first bark!

Kristen Levine: I love this place! Creativity, vision for the expansion, and design is fantastic. I’ll be in Kansas City soon and plan to visit.

PHOTO GALLERY (12 IMAGES)

WEBINAR: BAR K TALKS WITH CANDACE D’AGNOLO ON PETS+ LIVE!

5 Cool Things About Bar K

1 LOCALS ONLY. In its small retail area, Bar K stocks swag with its logo as well as pet products from Kansas City businesses. Among them: The Paw Wash and Beer Paws.

2 BONE APPETIT. The restaurant serves a “healthy casual” menu for humans. Dog offerings include entrees Beef Stew and Chicken Risotto, created with Purina nutritionists, and desserts such as Ice Cream Nuggets. Doggie Flights of three dishes also are available.

3BUILDING COMMUNITY. Bar K supports the rescue community with its separate Petfinder Park, which hosts adoption events every Saturday. Dogs adopted get a free annual membership. Bar K also has private meeting spaces where businesses — pet and others — hold meetings and customer-appreciation events.

4 ALL-WEATHER FUN. In the winter, a heated tent covers the beer garden. Dogs can come and go through flaps. “The dogs are very happy to be outside, even in cold weather,” Dodell says. Fans outside help keep customers cool in the summer.

5 KID-FRIENDLY, TOO. Most dog parks prohibit kids. Bar K welcomes all ages to its restaurant and on-leash areas. In the off-leash parks, kids 16 and younger must be accompanied by an adult and kids 8 and younger must be in immediate physical presence of a parent or guardian. Ages 4 through 12 must watch the “I’m a Bar K Kid” safety video and take a quiz. Only dogs are allowed to run and to play on equipment, and dogtenders will politely redirect families to on-leash areas when necessary.

Pamela Mitchell is the editor-in-chief of PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Spot the senior Boston Terrier as her assistant.

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