Councilmember David Yassky, chair of the City Council Committee on Small Business, presented his Small Business Community Excellence Award to Robbie dawg, inc. in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn.
Since 2004, robbie dawg has leveraged founder Lisa Fortunato’s secret dog biscuit recipe into a nationally recognized organic dog biscuit manufacturer in the heart of Brooklyn South. In the process, Fortunato has hired a staff of six women, secured contracts with major national vendors, made significant product donations to local city and state charities and become the official dog biscuit vendor of the Brooklyn Cyclones.
“robbie dawg, Inc. is a terrific example of a great small business in New York,” said Yassky. “Not only has robbie dawg found and filled a unique niche in the market, but it is precisely its unique, homegrown small business feel that has made it so successful.”
As Yassky noted, robbie dawg is homegrown indeed — it began in Fortunato’s kitchen in 2003 on the occasion of her dog Robbie’s first birthday. Unable to find birthday treats she liked, Fortunato set out to bake her own. Those treats proved so popular that she soon began selling them out of her apartment before leasing and renovating a former machine shop in Red Hook a year later.
“It all started as a fun thing I did for Robbie’s birthday,” recalled Fortunato. But since then, success has been sweet.
Lately, it’s been even sweeter thanks to a major supply contract with Whole Foods, gained through the guidance of the New York Industrial Retention Network (NYIRN). Because Robbie dawg biscuits are organic and free of corn, wheat and soy, they have proven an excellent fit for Whole Foods’ health-conscious crowd.
“Lisa contacted us after reading our ‘Food From New York’ newsletter,” says NYIRN’s Executive Director Adam Friedman. “Based on her organic recipes, it was clear she had a real shot with Whole Foods. robbie dawg is exactly the kind of small business we can really serve through industry advice and support.”
In recent months, Robbie dawg has also become the official dog biscuit vendor of the Brooklyn Cyclones, cementing the business’s local Brooklyn roots.
“Robbie Dawg is a valued Chamber member and another example of a quality food producer from Brooklyn sold on a national basis,” said Carl Hum, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. “We are proud to see Robbie Dawg products sold everywhere from the stands of a Cyclone game as the official ‘dog biscuit’ to gourmet shops. The award is well deserved as robbie dawg epitomizes how a good idea can become a great success. We salute them as well for their achievement as well as their continual efforts to give back to the community.”
“It’s really impressive what Lisa has been able to accomplish in the community,” added Yassky. “We should be going out of our way to make it easier for small businesses like this one to succeed in New York. These kinds of small, local ventures give texture, character and economic life to our communities.”
But for all of robbie dawg’s success, Fortunato hasn’t forgotten the city that helped her business get there. The business has made significant charitable contributions to the DirectEffect AIDS Research Support Program, the American Cancer Society NYC Dog Walk, Macy’s Barkfest for Animal Haven, Celebrate Brooklyn, HeartShare, and the Good Dog Foundation. They even provide 40 pounds of biscuits each month to Bide-a-Wee, a no-kill animal adoption organization with centers throughout New York and Long Island.
“I find this organization impressive on a number of levels,” added Red Hook Councilmember Sara Gonzalez. “By turning a really good idea into a profitable business, Lisa is providing inspiration to many others. As an animal lover, I appreciate their charitable contributions to animal rights organizations and so many other community-based organizations to aid their good work. And finally, that this organization is owned, operated and staffed entirely by women is a reflection of the economic diversity that has uplifted the Village of Red Hook. Long may robbie dawg continue to provide inspiration to entrepreneurs, healthy treats for animals, support for like-minded organizations and opportunities for women.”
And according to Fortunato, that’s exactly what robbie dawg plans to do.
“Giving back to the community is one of robbie dawg’s core values,” explained Fortunato. “It’s an important piece of who we are.”
“They have made impressive contributions to local charities and animal aid organizations,” grinned Yassky. “This is a small business that really loves New York. I hope this award shows them that New York loves them back.”