December 5, 2022

Local pet food store owners have created their own dog food to improve the health of their own dogs. 

Chew Dat Foods is a small pet food store located in Maurertown that first opened up in 2016. Co-owners Jennifer and Steven “Fuzzy” Hanger have been married for 29 years, and through their small business they sell raw dog food and raw cat food that they created.

The Hangers currently own 10 Saint Bernards and three cats. Their dogs often compete in dog shows and it takes around 300 pounds of food each week to feed their dogs to maintain a certain figure. One of their heavier dogs weighs up to 185 pounds.

Many people would come up to the Hangers during the dog shows and ask them what they were feeding their dogs because they thought they looked fantastic.

“I told them I was making my dogs raw food and feeding it to them,” Jennifer said.

This led to people asking the Hangers to make food for their dogs.

Before the raw dog food, Jennifer said she used to feed kibble to her 14 Saint Bernards at the time, but they kept losing some of their dogs at young ages to cancer and decided to do research on the nutritional information of the food they were feeding their dogs. “I started learning about some of the stuff they’re allowed to put in dog food that are known cancer causing ingredients,” said Jennifer.

This led to the Hangers to make the switch from kibble to making their own raw dog food. “I started making the food for myself because I just got tired of losing my dogs at age 7 or 8, now most of them live up to age 10-11 now,” said Jennifer.

“Knock on wood, but I haven’t had a case of cancer in my dogs since I made the switch and I think a lot of it has to do with the ingredients in my food because I chose ingredients that are known as anti-cancer ingredients, like broccoli and kale which are known to be really good at preventing cancer and slowing the growth of cancer,” said Jennifer.

For the different types of meals, the Hangers have an original blend and a turkey formula that they sell to dogs, and a turkey formula specifically for cats.

Original Blend is their most popular meal for dogs, and the ingredients include chicken necks with bone, turkey hearts, chicken leg quarters with bone, chicken livers, carrots, turkey livers, apples, chicken gizzards, bananas, pork kidneys, pumpkin, broccoli, kale, yellow squash, cranberries, beef hearts, eggs, whole grain oats, parsley, ground cloves, ginger, organic kelp, garlic and ground turmeric.

All of the ingredients are locally sourced and are ground up, mixed together, and packaged at the store.

Customer Carol Ross has three chihuahuas and she bought a 10 pound bucket of the original blend to feed her dogs that usually lasts her two weeks. “As soon as I gave it to them they loved it,” said Ross.

The operation of Chew Dat Foods is managed by the Hangers with one other employee who helps them along the way. Jennifer says they generally process 600-750 pounds each day 3-4 times a week according to what’s ordered. Chew Dat Foods currently serves 300-400 customers in parts of Virginia and Maryland.

A majority of the food sold is done through free deliveries. Steven drives a bus with freezers installed to keep the food fresh and makes deliveries every Saturday. There are different checkpoints where Steven stops so that customers can meet him to pick up their orders. Every Saturday is a different route that alternates each week.

In Virginia, Steven stops by Harrisonburg, Fishersville, Charlottesville, Zion Crossroads, Fredericksburg, Dumfries, Alexandria, Purcellville, Leesburg, Manassas, Warrenton, and McLean. In Maryland, Steven stops by College Park, Denton, Centreville, Upper Marlboro, Frederick, Ellicott City, and Gaithersburg. On Mondays, the store alternates deliveries to Winchester, Gainesville, Woodstock, and Chantilly.

The Hangers also wanted to minimize the waste of packaging for their food. Originally, the food used to be packaged in plastic bags but the food would leak from the bags and would be a huge waste of plastic. Instead of plastic bags, the Hangers quickly moved to the idea of reusable plastic buckets to sell their food in.

Customers have the choice to buy between 2, 5, and 10 pound buckets of food. “Customers just use the food out of the buckets, then we give them new buckets of food in exchange,” Jennifer said. “We run the buckets through a wash, rinse, and sanitize process to clean them so that they can be reused.”

With the reusable buckets, the Hangers have 30,000-40,000 buckets that can be reused in their service. ”By doing that, we’re keeping 30,000-40,000 plastic bags from going to the landfill every year,” said Jennifer.

For the original blend, the price ranges from $6.50 for 2 pounds, $15.75 for 5 pounds, and $30.50 for 10 pounds. Compared to regular kibble, Jennifer says the price of kibble is significantly less than her food but in terms of raw dog food, her food is lower compared to other brands. Jennifer claimed that some dog food brands would be recalled for various reasons and would impact a dog’s health negatively which is why she trusts the food that she makes more now and prefers raw dog food.

“10-15 years ago raw food was less than 1% of the dog food industry and is now 10%, which is huge,” Jennifer said. “I believe it has benefited my dogs and I really want more dogs and cats eating this because I believe it’s better for them.”