An Austin company is bringing food from the restaurant kitchen to the doggy bowl.
The Conscious Pet jumped into the pet food industry with meals made from upcycled restaurant scraps. With a launch party coming up next month at microbrewery Central Machine Works, Chief Dogxecutive Officer Mason Arnold talked to Austonia about how the company came about.
Arnold said he and Jessica Kezar, the vice pawsident of sales and marketing, were working on their podcast, A Mostly Green Life. A guest who’s heavily involved in composting showed them some projects he was working on, one of which looked like dog food.
“He's like, ‘Yeah, I've been feeding it to my dog and she loves it,” Arnold said. “And we had just gotten a dog recently when that happened and had been researching nutrition and realized that dog food is making a pretty big transition away from kibble and highly processed foods.”
But Arnold didn’t have much luck tracking down food that fit the perfect mix of nutrition and form factor for his Boykin Spaniel.
So they started making their own nutritious form of dog food that's gently cooked and as easy to serve as kibble. Arnold says that by upcycling restaurant kitchen scraps, it’s helping to solve a food waste problem, too.
Arnold declined to say which restaurants they’re getting scraps from. But think raw ingredients, like the trimmings of steak and such before it makes it to your plate.
The team is able to get the exact same product from the restaurants on a regular basis. So every batch has a mix of animal products plus fruit and veggies added to it.
The process involves gently cooking at a temperature high enough to kill pathogens and make it shelf-stable, but low enough that it keeps all of the fats intact for a nutritious meal.
With Austin’s 500,000 pup-ulation (the number of dogs here), the product is focused on dogs for now. But Arnold says they’ve identified some restaurants they’d want to use for cat food. He also noted Austin’s pet diversity, saying there are lizards, snakes and more that could handle some higher quality food.
“So as we get up off the ground, we really got a lot of options to expand into different pets and different ingredients and tweak the formulas as we grow,” Arnold said.
And on growth, The Conscious Pet is using Wefunder, a platform that allows people to invest in startups. It’s a relatively new approach that became possible through a 2016 law that made it legal for people to invest small amounts of money in startups, whereas before, only “accredited investors” could invest in a private company. Currently, the company has about 70 investors.
The company is launching exclusively in Austin, where it is offered online-only for now. But Arnold imagines that if the company ever expands to other markets, pet food miles will be a consideration and they would source from local restaurants in the area rather than shipping great lengths.
It’s a feat Arnold is game for. The serial entrepreneur has started six companies prior to The Conscious Pet. He said startups can feel like a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, but that it's the life for him and that sustainability has always been a part of what he’s done.
“Somewhere along the way, I started describing myself as an artist, with commerce being my canvas,” Arnold said. “What I really love to do is create new things that didn't exist in the world before that I think make the world better.”
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When Mark Coffey moved to Austin in 1986, it was the land of Stevie Ray Vaughan shows, MTV and new opportunities.
Now, it may be the land of limited housing, property tax hikes and California license plates—but many are still choosing to stay for remnants of that old-school charm.
Austinites love to lament the loss of “Old Austin”—they’ve been saying it since 1884. And with one-bedroom rents up 112%, home appraisal rates up 56% and the cost of living on a seemingly endless upward trend, it's hard not to see Austin's past through rose-tinted lenses.
But even in money-stretching times like these, some Austinites are taking a break from their usual complaints to remind themselves why they choose to stay.
Mark Coffey has stayed in Austin for decades due to its uniqueness, inclusivity and community. (Mark Coffey)
As a near-original Austinite, Mark Coffey didn't have too much trouble buying a house or finding a job with pension benefits at a local utility service decades ago. Still, he said he's stayed in Austin for more than financial security.
"Despite the cost of living, the brutal heat and traffic... I think the trade-off is that Austin has always kind of had that sense of possibility," Coffey told Austonia. "Of all the cities in Texas, it's been the most open to change and future possibilities and I don't think that's ever completely lost."
Austin's unique spirit has attracted like-minded small-town Texas kids looking for community. Gabriel Rodriguez, who grew up in the Rio Grande Valley, moved to Austin a few years ago after graduating from Texas State University and still hasn't become bored with the vibrant live music scene.
Gabriel Rodriguez, who has experience as a musician has found a home in Austin's live music scene and with Austin FC. (Gabriel Rodriguez)
"The big thing to me was the music," Rodriguez said. "That's what made me want to move to Austin in the first place... I grew up in a place that didn't have that."
Coffey, Rodriguez and many others have also found the Austin spirit with Austin FC, the city's first major league sports team, and its vibrant and community-minded fanbase.
Reason for being in love: Austin FC.
— Micky Ruñoz (@HighMs66) June 7, 2022
"Austin FC has come around and it's caused both old and new Austinite to kind of rally around something that like, yeah, this is our club, but it's also a statement about the kind of community we want to be," Coffey said.
For others, like Michelle Sanchez, Austin is home for many reasons—namely, a famed food scene, family and plenty of outdoor activities.
Proud, Austinite. I love Zilker (all the greenbelts), people for the most part are friendly, soccer, the food, and the fact that my family lives here. <3 I have thought about leaving once my contract is up.
— Michelle Sánchez (@MichelleS_tv) June 7, 2022
In a Reddit post that saw nearly 800 comments, dozens of users pointed to outdoor activities—from Barton Creek's Greenbelt swimming holes to paddle boarding on Lady Bird Lake and trails dotting the city's outskirts. Others said that despite its flaws, they've never found anywhere better.
"Austin doesn't do anything spectacularly, but does more things adequately than most anywhere I can think of," user boyyhowdy said.
However, for some, those "adequacies" still aren't enough to stay.
Over austin too. I resigned a (sub)lease for a super small studio that’s 40% lower than the average 1 bedroom in Austin. This will be my last year in Austin, so I’m staying to save money then move to a city with actual public transit and ditching my car.
— amanduh (taylor's version) (@hey_amanduhh) June 7, 2022
Rodriguez said he's thought of leaving too. But whenever he thinks too long about the city's flaws, he finds solace in Austin's live music venues, including his favorite, Moody Theater. Coffey, meanwhile, recommends longtime spots like Continental Club, the Broken Spoke or even South Congress for a quick "old Austin" fix.
And with housing prices showing signs of slowing down and longtime haunts like Austin's longest-standing grocery store opening back up, there still may be time to reignite a romance with what "Keeps Austin Weird."
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While Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey may forever have Austin's hearts, plenty of other winners live in Austin's city limits, including seven Guinness World Record holders.
The books frequented at Scholastic Book Fairs feature past and current Austinites—from speedy burrito makers to ancient felines—that made their mark in their own niche categories.
Here's a look at those record-smashing feats:
World's longest legs (female): Maci Currin (4.4 ft)
Cedar Park teenager Maci Currin strutted into the 2021 World Record book with her record-setting legs. At nearly a meter and a half in length (her longest leg checks in at 53.255 inches,) the 6 ft 10 teenager is no stranger to standing out.
Currin, who said she's been bullied for her height in the past, hopes the recognition will inspire other tall girls to embrace their height as she hopes to move into the modeling industry.
Oldest married couple (2020): John and Charlotte Henderson
❤️🙏🏽 The UT and @LonghornVillage Retirement Community mourning the loss of a legend: John Henderson. You’ll remember, he & his wife, Charlotte, set the @GWR for the oldest married couple of aggregate age. The two of them met at UT. He was 107: https://t.co/gVtWrTixGL pic.twitter.com/2YgoptUyEX— John-Carlos Estrada (@Mr_JCE) October 19, 2020
Not-so-newly weds, UT alumni John and Charlotte Henderson tied the knot before the Guinness Book of World Records had even started collecting records.
Before Austin's skyline featured much more than the Capitol, the two were married in 1939—83 years ago—after meeting in a UT zoology class in 1934. The two were named the oldest living married couple, when adding the two's ages, in early 2020.
At 107, John Henderson was also the oldest living Longhorn football player before his death in October 2020.
Fastest Sandwich made with feet: Rob Williams (1 minute 57 seconds)
Austinite Rob Williams is the ultimate bread-winner.
Williams became the fastest person to make a sandwich with his feet when his nimble toes crafted a bologna, cheese and lettuce sandwich, complete with olives on cocktail sticks, in a minute and 57 seconds. An audience member named Sally was lucky (or unlucky) enough to take a bite out of the record-breaking sandwich after it was created by the Kamikaze Fireflies member at Austin's Zach Scott Theater in 2000.
Biggest dog hair ball: Texas Hearing and Service Dogs (201 pounds)
Texas Hearing and Service Dogs put together a hefty hairball when it gathered fur from over 8,000 dogs to create a 201-pound fur ball. The bundle of fur became the heaviest on record and weighed more than the average weight of even the world's largest dog breeds.
Oldest Cat: Creme Puff (38)
Speaking of hairballs: Creme Puff the cat probably coughed up her fair share in her 38-year life.
The record-setting feline was born in 1967 and lived with her owner, Jake Perry, in Austin until August 3, 2004, breaking the record as the oldest cat on record.
Her secret? Dry cat food, broccoli, eggs, turkey bacon, coffee, and even an eyedropper full of red wine every two days.
Perry, who also had a cat named Granpa Rex Allen live to age 34, kept his home fit for kitty royalty, complete with a movie theater in his garage that played nature documentaries for their entertainment.
Most contributions to a painting: Schlotzsky's (2,643)
Austin's original sandwich chain earned a spot on the list after a whopping 2,643 residents contributed to a paint-by-numbers mural at Schlotzsky's original location on its 46th birthday in 2017.
Sloke One, the “Mayor of Austin Graffiti Art,” crafted a colorful outline of a giant sandwich in front of an Austin skyline to commemorate the chain.
Most lanyards worn at once: Guillermo Rodriguez (300)
Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel paid witness to a world record-smashing moment when the strong-necked Guillermo Rodriguez wore a whopping 300 lanyards at his Jimmy Kimmel Live! SXSW appearance in 2015.
In a performance that was more slow-paced than Rodriguez probably would have liked, Kimmel put on the 300th lanyard as Rodriguez was presented a plaque to commemorate the feat.
Most burritos made in three minutes: London Nichols (10)
After getting plenty of practice as an employee at Austin-based Freebirds World Burrito, London Nichols broke the burrito-wrapping record as she made 10 burritos in just three minutes at SXSW in 2017.
Smallest test tube: UT scientists (2009)
Though it may have been hard to see the accomplishment, scientists at UT made the world record book as they conducted an experiment with a test tube with a diameter equivalent to one-thousandth of human hair in 2009.
Most haircuts in an hour: Ivan Zoot (34)
Customers may have cried after their rapidly-executed cuts were revealed, but barber Ivan Foot still earned respect as he completed 34 haircuts at the Men's Grooming Center in Austin in 2008.