Marie Moody’s career has gone to the dogs. The creator of Stella & Chewy’s, an organic dog food line, Marie has created an empire–and it was all because of her love for her little shelter dog, Chewy. Here’s her story.
Photos: Gabbeli Photography
What were you doing prior to launching Stella & Chewy’s?
I worked as a fashion sales rep. It was a glamorous life,
but it wasn’t fulfilling. In fact, I had been fired from three jobs in the
fashion industry—that’s how much I didn’t like it. [laughs] You know that you need to
switch jobs when you’re already thinking about your lunch hour at 9:00 AM! I
would walk down Seventh Avenue at break time and I just knew that I needed a
serious career change.
What was the impetus for creating your dog food line?
I adopted a shelter dog, a terrier mix that I named Stella.
She was a wonderful dog, but as a terrier mix, she so destructive! She would
chew my shoes all the time. I didn’t want her to be alone—and I figured she
might be happier if she had a boyfriend—so I adopted a second dog, Chewy. Chewy
was an Airedale/Sharpei mix. But it wasn’t long before I found out that Chewy
was really sick with distemper.
Oh, wow. Distemper is very serious and dangerous for a pet.
It is. But I was determined to nurse Chewy back to health. I
realized that dogs are descendants of wolves and foxes, and their diet is raw. So I began
to research raw diets and I thought, “This might work.” I realized that a raw
diet might make Chewy better…and it did. I went to Whole Foods, and pushed my
shopping cart through the aisles, filling it with all organic veggies and meats
for my Chewy. I went home and prepared it for him, to nurse him back to health.
Chewy’s health dramatically improved on the raw organic diet. I was so happy.
What made you think to take this idea and turn it into a
I saw how much healthier Chewy was and I wanted to offer
this same diet to other dog owners who might need the same help I did. After
all, pet owners will spend money on spas and sweaters for their dogs, but they
might not invest as much in their dog’s dietary needs. And it wasn’t from lack
of love; it was from lack of choices. I felt that people would invest in an
organic diet for their pet if a) it was available to them and b) they
understood how vital it was to their pet’s health.
Launching a business takes a lot of time and many steps. How
did you bring this to market?
It wasn’t easy. At all. I spent many months writing business
plans and doing research. In doing all of that, I wound up with no savings. But
I was absolutely determined. I received a delivery for 1,000 pounds of organic
meat—at my apartment. I had bought industrial-size freezers, and they were all
sitting in my living room, right where my sofa and love seat should have been!
I went to local pet stores and asked them to sell it and
they didn’t want to. So I told them to offer it to customers, and if it still
didn’t sell that I would come back and pick it up. Sure enough, the storeowners
called back in a couple of days—but this time it was to order some product. But
then I ran into another problem. Many of the pet stores didn’t have freezers,
so I had to buy freezers for them. That meant getting a loan from my dad.
What was it like running the business from your apartment?
It was very difficult. I would deliver orders out of a green
minivan, and sometimes out of cabs. I would explain to store owners and
distributors why this was a healthier way to feed your pets. Eventually, the business
turned a profit, and I realized that I needed to take over the manufacturing of
the dog food in order to ensure quality control and facilitate demand.
That’s when I decided to move back to Wisconsin to open a
manufacturing plant. I knew nothing about manufacturing; it was a humbling
experience. But people were so generous with their time and expertise, and I
learned a lot along the way. I now have a 56,000 square foot plant in
Where is Stella & Chewy’s today?
It’s doing amazingly well. We’re in over 3,000 stores across
the United States and employ over 100 workers. I wanted to create a workplace
that people wanted to be a part of, and I believe that I’ve done that. This
year alone we’re projecting sales of over $20 million. It took a while for people
to catch on to the type of dog food that Stella & Chewy’s is, which is
freeze-dried and shelf-stable. But it’s organic raw meat, so it’s very healthy
for your pet. People are very brand-loyal, and I’m glad that now so many of
them are loyal to Stella & Chewy’s.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneur moms?
It just never occurred to me to give up. I believed in my
idea so much that I wanted everyone to know about it. I’m extremely passionate about
Stella & Chewy’s, and while Chewy passed away, Stella is still going strong.
She runs around the plant like it’s her own office. And while I’m running the company,
I have my son, Charles, right at my side. I think it’s great for him to see a
mom who loves what she does and also makes time for him. Maybe one day he’ll
take over the company, but until then, I don’t mind being the top dog–and top mom.