Hawaii Doggie Bakery, Honolulu, HI
OWNERS: Niki Libarios, Tasha Libarios, Joanne Libarios; WEBSITE:hawaiidoggiebakery.org; FOUNDED: 1998; OPENED FEATURED STORE: 2013; AREA: 352 square feet; EMPLOYEES: 1 full-time, 3 part-time; FACEBOOK & INSTAGRAM: hawaiidoggiebakery
HAWAII DOGGIE BAKERY spans just 352 square feet. Thanks to COVID-19, the store has gotten even smaller, as the inability to physically distance required temporary changes in layout as well as operations. Customers now step just inside to the relocated checkout area, where they pick up pre-orders and can add impulse items such as toys and accessories.
The new setup, which also includes reduced hours, has not diminished interest in the tasty cakes and treats that owner Niki Libarios and her team bake. On busy days, dogs and their humans happily queue up outside.
“People are pretty used to waiting in lines now,” she says.
Hawaii Doggie Bakery got its start as a pop-up business in 1998, with Libarios — along with her sister Tasha and mother Joanne, silent partners — buying it in 2012. They opened the physical store the next year in Honolulu’s beautiful Manoa Valley.
From left, sisters Niki and Tasha Libarios co-own Hawaii Doggie Bakery with their mother, Joanne.
In addition to trademarks and equipment, the business purchase included a collection of recipes inspired by some of the state’s many cultures: Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese and American.
“We’re a melting pot in Hawaii, and along with that comes the foods,” Libarios says. “Humans get all of these treats, so we make dog versions to include them in celebrations.”
Among the seasonal baked goods on Hawaii Doggie Bakery’s menu are Leis for May Day, Good Luck Mochi for Japanese New Year, Mooncakes for Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival and Pumpkin Pies for Thanksgiving.
She introduced a doggie version of Lai See, the small red envelopes filled with money given in Chinese culture.
“I thought, why can’t dogs get them, too? They don’t care about money, so we make little coin biscuits.”
Libarios and three part-time bakers make these items as well as a variety of year-round biscuits in an off-site kitchen. They use local ingredients such as poi and Okinawan sweet potatoes in many of their treats.
Niki Libarios and Chris Luke have two Shiba Inus: Kuri (shown here) and Katsumi Firefox.
The most popular offerings at Hawaii Doggie Bakery, though, are birthday cakes, cupcakes and treats, all promoted by its birthday club with more than 4,000 members.
“Customers sign up and receive two emails each year,” Libarios explains, crediting her general manager (and longtime boyfriend) Chris Luke for the automated system. “The first email arrives two weeks before their dog’s birthday and encourages them to start planning for the big day. It includes links for pre-ordering cakes and other treats from us, and a coupon to redeem a free 4-ounce bag of biscuits. The second email is a birthday card on their dog’s birthday and reminds them to redeem their coupon.”
More than 60 percent of members redeem, and 90 percent of those customers spend $10 or more during their visit. Birthday hats, charms, bandanas, toys and candles are all within sight in the new check-out area, as are balloons.
“It gets their mind working. They start thinking, ‘Oh you have bandanas and candles and decorations. I guess I do really need all of this for my dog’s birthday.’
“Birthdays have helped keep us going,” she says, as have changes in customer gifting habits during the pandemic. They are giving more substantial, higher-priced items to co-workers and friends they don’t see as often. “If they’re making a special trip, they don’t want to give something small.”
A Walk in the Garden
Pre-pandemic, Hawaii Doggie Bakery had a birthday and gotcha day photo set for social media. Libarios plans to bring it back as soon as possible. In the meantime, customers can pose their pups in the store’s dog-friendly garden, “planted” in 2019 on its side patio.
Libarios says, “The garden represents so many things that are important to us: freshly grown ingredients, indigenous plants and produce — of course, all dog-safe. The plants are at dog-height for smelling and tasting, and include educational signs that explain how they are beneficial to dogs.”
Rosemary, lemon balm and turmeric are among plants arranged in pots. Tucked among them sits a small collection of succulents and figurines, about which she says, “We are especially proud of our Rainbow Bridge Memorial Garden, which pays homage to furry friends and family we have loved and lost.”
While Libarios and her team have proven that good things do come in small packages, and even smaller during the pandemic, they eagerly await a return to normalcy. For them, that means a fully open store and regular events, both those they host and attend. It also means spending time together outside of work.
“We have company-wide get-togethers and include them in cultural holidays. Our company has a feeling of ‘ohana,’ meaning family.”
PHOTO GALLERY ( 20 IMAGES)
Five Cool Things About Hawaii Doggie Bakery
1. STORE PUPS: Libarios was working in event planning when she and Luke brought Katsumi and Kuri Firefox into their family. They inspired the couple to create a Shiba Inu club, which proved so popular Libarios became well known in Hawaii’s dog community, appearing regularly on local TV stations. Once she bought the bakery, the pups became top models for its social media and even have talent agents, with Kuri recently booking a commercial for the Honolulu Department of Transportation.
2. GODZILLA: With two weeks notice, Libarios will make a custom cake to fit a pup’s party theme. Godzilla, sushi, a favorite banana toy and Chanel are among the inspirations for her creations.
3. DOGGIE ESCAPE ROOM: For Halloween in 2017, Hawaii Doggie Bakery hosted an escape room for pups and their people in a tent out front. The scenario involved a dog who ate candy and needed veterinary care. Humans had to solve clues and pups had to perform tasks so they could get out and to the vet.
4. THERAPY DOGS: The Libarios family has been taking part in the Hawaiian Humane Society’s Pet Visitation Program for more than a decade. They brought their dogs to senior care facilities regularly before the pandemic and will again once. Volunteers have also set up at the bakery to educate customers about the program and recruit participants.
5. PARTY FAVORS: Customers wanting to celebrate their pup’s birthday at day care can purchase small bags of biscuits with a label personalized with their face.