Every now and then, you’ll come across a business that just makes you pause and scratch your head in confusion, asking, “Why does this exist?”
pawdining.my was one such business, and we were curious enough to reach out and seek answers.
Shirleen, the founder, answered our queries. “My dog, Zephyr, is a very picky eater. Hence, I would have to [rack my brain] on what to feed her almost every day and if she would be ok with today’s meal. She gets bored of things so easily that I cannot repeat any two meals, otherwise she’ll just straight up reject them.”
So Zephyr’s pickiness coupled with Shirleen’s itch to create something new led to a creation that offers a human-like fine dining experience to dogs.
Is it safe for dogs?
Locally, the other business that uses the term “fine dining” as its pet food concept is REFINE by Perfect Companion, serving packaged gourmet meals for cats.
How Shirleen’s take on pet fine dining differs is that she’ll actually cook the meal on the spot, plate it nicely on a porcelain dish, and customers can receive it via pickup or delivery.
Currently, she only has one dish on the menu which is her pan-seared duck breast accompanied with a duck gravy and blueberry compôte, paired with whipped potatoes, beetroot, zucchini, carrot slices, and edible violets.
While you may raise your eyebrows over how safe these ingredients are for dogs, Shirleen has done her research. Plus, as a dog lover herself, it’s unlikely that she’d intentionally feed unsafe ingredients to Zephyr, let alone other dogs.
This list of human foods that are safe for dogs includes the ingredients that are in Shirleen’s dish, and other things like beetroot, zucchini, whipped potatoes, and even violets are safe for dogs to consume.
An interest in the culinary arts is baked into her
Shirleen’s passion for experimenting with food didn’t just come from nowhere, as she has a Bachelor of Culinary Arts and Foodservice Management (Hons.) from Taylor’s Lakeside University.
But her interest in the culinary arts went back much further than that. She grew up in Kota Bharu, Kelantan, and from a young age, she watched her parents work their magic with food as they were also in the hospitality industry.
“Growing up, I was not the brightest of kids. My results were only so-so, but I had so much fun doing what I love in this field, and aced it by securing myself in the Dean’s List for 5 semesters,” Shirleen was proud to share.
“My internships were loads of fun too! Having interned at a 5-star hotel and a centralised pastry kitchen as part of my degree’s requirements were really great experiences.”
Beyond academia, she would experiment with different ingredients and plating techniques in her free time so as not to lose touch with her artsy side. Currently, she works full-time as an Assistant Store Manager at a burger joint.
A mission that pet lovers can get behind
“My thought when thinking of creating pawdining.my was that I’d like to have pets included in everything.”
“In Malaysia, especially, there aren’t a lot of places they can tag along with us to. So the very least we could do is make something fun or unusual for them,” Shirleen explained, and she’s right. There are only so many pet-friendly places you can bring your furry friends to, let alone providing them with a unique dining experience.
Since fine dining is also about the experience and not just the food, Shirleen includes candles and folded napkins in the fine dining platter she delivers to help owners bring the experience up a notch.
This duck platter she has now costs RM45, excluding delivery fees (Shirleen uses Lalamove and GrabExpress). But she usually recommends pickups over deliveries so that owners can make sure the ingredients don’t get jostled around and get ruined.
“As I’m juggling my full-time job, it’s uncertain of how many slots I’ll have a week. However, each batch will have around 10 sets max,” Shirleen replied when asked about her schedule for pawdining.my.
“For now, I’m thinking twice a month as it is tiring to prepare everything from scratch to packing. And as much as I love doing it, I’d also love to rest on my off-days.”
Not (yet) a moneymaker
Like humans, dogs don’t need fine dining all the time, so Shirleen would mainly get bookings in advance for dogs’ special occasions, especially on birthdays.
It’s also a business with a small target market consisting of owners who really, really want to spoil their pets. The above coupled with the fact that it’s a passion project done in her own time means Shirleen doesn’t earn much from this.
Her full-time job appears to still be her main focus, and pawdining.my will remain a side project that she’ll keep exploring for now.
Being that fine dining usually is best represented by dine-in experiences, we asked if she’d ever open a physical store for dogs and owners to visit.
Shirleen replied that she hadn’t thought that far ahead yet, plus with the pandemic and dine-in restrictions, it’s unlikely that it can be pulled off anytime soon.
For this small-time entrepreneur, just having a proper set-up at home and being able to get her passion project off the ground has been good enough.
- You can learn more about pawdining.my here.
- You can read other fine dining articles we’ve written here.
Featured Image Credit: Shirleen Cheok, founder of pawdining.my