Shawn Buckley's secret ingredient at JustFoodForDogs: real food

Shawn Buckley of JustFoodForDogs has a secret ingredient: real food

Dismayed by the ingredients he found in commercial dog food, Shawn Buckley decided to make his own, and before long, JustFoodForDogs was born. The first location opened in Newport Beach in 2011; a fifth is opening soon in Pasadena. With Oscar Chavez, a veterinarian and former professor of clinical canine nutrition, Buckley developed a variety of premium pet food blends, including custom blends for a variety of dietary and nutritional needs. He recently sat down to chat about the status of dog food.

People are increasingly concerned about what's in pet food and where it comes from.

When we started 41/2 years ago, we were making 500 pounds of food a week. Now we make about 28,000 to 30,000 pounds a week. There was a huge, desperate market out there.

Custom pet food is not an insignificant market.

Dog food and cat food combined is probably about $211/2 to $22 billion. Dog food alone is between $141/2 and $15 billion.

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We make daily food for healthy dogs; we do that using all USDA-certified ingredients for humans but nutritionally balanced for dogs. We have a line of prescription food that's sold through about 100 vet offices and some of the best, top hospitals in the greater Los Angeles area.

It's all the same stuff that you'd get from any restaurant supply. I have some great photos of salmon when the salmon is running, coming from Alaska in Styrofoam tubs that they've shipped by air; it's never been frozen. It's not only what you and I would want to eat, it's what [chef] Michael Mina would want to cook.

It sounds like it's better quality than what a lot of people eat.

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A general supermarket, we usually beat them. If you come and look at our broccoli, it's better than theirs. Why does that matter? If you look at our treats, we don't decorate them; we don't make them shaped like bones. You know why? The dog doesn't care.

Expensive, right?

If you have a healthy 30-pound dog, our food is going to cost about $35 a month more than premium kibble. It's not nearly as expensive as people think.

And you have an open kitchen.

When we started this, what was still very popular was when you'd go to a restaurant, you'd get the chef's table. And you get to sit in the kitchen and eat, and it's just awesome. And I thought this would be really cool because you get to see everything. We're totally transparent.

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noelle.carter@latimes.com

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