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Dexter’s Deli draws from its city, state and team to bring healthy foods to pets.

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Dexter’s Deli, San Diego, CA

OWNER: Tori Rosay; Website:dextersdeli.com; FOUNDED: 1996; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2016; EMPLOYEES: 4 full-time, 2 part-time; AREA: 2,000 square feet; FACEBOOK: dextersdeli; INSTAGRAM: dexters.deli


DEXTER’S DELI HAS been selling raw pet food since 1996.

“We were literally the first store to sell raw food diets for dogs and cats in San Diego County,” owner Tori Rosay says of her original location in Del Mar, CA. “We started out with two freezers and had fresh pet food made and packaged by a local butcher. This was before any packaged prepared raw food brands were available.”

Now 24 years later, Dexter’s Deli has expanded to three stores that sell a variety of raw and natural pet foods, plus other thoughtfully selected products. Its San Diego location takes home third place in our 2020 America’s Coolest Stores contest.

Dexter's Deli Owner Tori Rosay

Dexter’s Deli Owner Tori Rosay

Shop Local, Local Shop

Rosay now has an abundance of raw pet foods to consider, but she continues to save space for smaller brands made in California such as Savage Cat Food, Small Batch, Rawr Cat Food, GreenTripe and Lotus Natural Pet Food. They are available at the San Diego store along with her own locally made Dexter’s Deli Premium Select Raw Food. These combine with out-of-state brands Answers, Raw Bistro and The Bones & Co. to draw in an impressive amount of raw feeders.

“We’re San Diego’s largest retailer of raw pet food,” she says.

Also under the Dexter’s Deli brands are locally made cakes, freshly baked biscuits, meat jerkies and lightly cooked meatballs.

“We sell the meatballs as a treat or topper. Dogs go nuts for them.”

All of the above fill six storage freezers in back and nine glass-front freezers on the sales floor. Rosay designed the San Diego location — most recently a men’s hip-hop clothing store — around her display freezers. They sit back in an insulated wall area with appropriate circulation.

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“If freezers aren’t in the right space, you hear them all day long. It also helps with energy efficiency.”

The remainder of the store’s design reflects the mix of historic and hipster found in its indie-rich neighborhood, North Park. Exposed beams and large windows create space and light, while brick walls and stained concrete floors serve as a dark, rich base. Fixtures are a mix of rustic, industrial and modern, with the checkout desk featuring a corrugated front.

To create more wall space, Rosay covered some of the building’s windows with large pet photos outside and slatwall inside.

“There are windows above, so they still provide a lot of natural light.”

Dexter's Deli Jerky

Dexter’s Deli Jerky

Learn To Sell — and Stay

Before joining the pet industry, Rosay worked for a human health supplement company that viewed education as the key to sales success. She has carried that through to Dexter’s Deli. Available online and in-store is an extensive library of Pet Health Guides, written and updated by staff educator Margarat Nee.

“People come to us and ask a lot of hard questions, about allergies and yeast and cancer and DCM,” Rosay explains. “Staff can pull out the topic guide and use it to help choose products, and they can give it to the customer so they have something to walk away with.”

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The guides also are an integral part of new-hire and ongoing training. Each employee goes through the 90-day Dexter’s University, which takes place on the sales floor and through the Team Dexter website. There they find educational posts and videos. Daily updates cover new product information, issues affecting the staff and general fun such as happy birthdays.

“It really helps keep staff connected and knowing what is going on — it’s like our own Dexter’s Deli Facebook.”

This approach to training, along with Rosay’s dedication to raw and healthy feeding, gives her an employee-retention rate higher than the industry average.

“We have many staff members who have been with us for five years or longer, the longest person being 22 years strong,” she says. “They see that Dexter’s is a company that cares about natural pet health care, and they want to be a part of it.”

JUDGES’ COMMENTS
  • SPENCER WILLIAMS: They are running a strong business that fits well into their community. The website conveys the importance of healthy pets and has a local personality. It was easy to navigate product online and to purchase, as well as to understand the changes due to COVID-19.
  • TRACE MENCHACA: Wow! Thank you so much for your attention to every detail, your amazing aesthetic and your ability to send the feel of your store through photos. This is a store I’d make a trip to see.
  • LEIB DODELL: I really like the online presence. It does a good job of presenting the brand. I also like the focus on local specialty products.
  • MATT ALDRICH: I love that Dexter’s Deli incorporates a lot of personality and uniqueness into their presence, particularly the chef’s creations and video content. The interior and exterior of the store look well-lit and have strong promotion, respectively.
  • MELISSA KAUFFMAN: I like that Dexter’s Deli works with a small number of local companies, so the retailer really gets to know the products.
PHOTO GALLERY (13 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Dexter’s Deli

1. A GIFT FOR YOU: Instead of raffle items that rarely bring in new customers, Rosay gives animal rescues gift envelopes, each with a $10 off coupon and product vouchers redeemable in-store. When the raffle winner comes in, Rosay says, “It’s our chance to shine, and they are super happy to try new products for their pets. This program has been an amazing community marketing tool.”

2. WHO IS DEXTER?: Rosay’s Boston Terrier-American Staffordshire Terrier mix, who passed at the age of 17. That’s quite the endorsement of her pet health expertise. Blueberry, shown here with Rosay, now serves as chief dog in residence.

3. GENEROUS RETURN POLICY: If Dexter’s Deli carries an item, a customer can return it there for credit no matter where they bought it. “Some stores have strict policies, but why put a customer through the ringer? We can always send it back to the vendor. I want to be known as the store of ‘yes.’ Retail is challenging enough with competition and online sales affecting our growth, so having stellar customer service is always on our mind.”

4. SHARE THE LOVE GOODIE BAG: Any new dog or cat family member gets a package valued at more than $50. It contains vendor-provided food, treats, supplements and grooming products. Customers need only share a photo from the store.

5. HIGHLY SKILLED EMPLOYEES: “I can honestly say we have the best staff. They are not only passionate about what we do, but are also knowledgeable people with all sorts of experience and skills.” Lori Edwards serves as manager of the San Diego store. She has a degree in Health Science from San Diego State University and previously worked in finance for 25 years.

Since launching in 2017, PETS+ has won 16 major international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact PETS+'s editors at editor@petsplusmag.com.

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