Home Business Dog-friendly cafe Boris & Horton reopens with some new tricks

Dog-friendly cafe Boris & Horton reopens with some new tricks

by SuperiorInvest

A triumphant atmosphere hung in the air at East Village cafe Boris & Horton, as good boys and good girls ran around, barked, sprawled out and ogled a variety of delicacies.

“We're here twice a day during the week,” said Monica Hu, a long-time customer, with her three pugs at her feet last Sunday. “There's no place like this in the city.”

The 2,100-square-foot cafe on the corner of 12th Street and Avenue A encompasses three former storefronts, which have been converted into a dining area where dogs are allowed but no food can be ordered, a seating area where only humans are allowed. and a takeout window. (The separation is what makes it a dog-friendly cafe, rather than a dog cafe, a la cat cafes that provide companionship.) Logan Mikhly and his father, Coppy Holzman, opened the place in 2018 and a second location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, last summer.

Sunday's festive scene represented a quick turnaround for the owners, who had announced on Feb. 15 that they would close both Boris & Horton's locations, much to the surprise and dismay of loyal customers. In about a week, a GoFundMe campaign driven by many of those customers raised about $250,000 to keep the business afloat. The outpouring of community support convinced Mikhly and Holzman to reconsider their decision.

“It made us a little nervous,” Mikhly said. “We didn't want to take people's money and not have a plan for it.” Afraid of becoming another small business saved by the community and then closing again, she and her father decided to review her business model. They reopened Boris & Horton, with some crucial changes, on March 11.

For starters, he said, “we are working with our landlords to renegotiate leases.” The landlords refused to share the new rent for fear of ruining negotiations. Nate Mallon, broker on the deal for the Williamsburg space, said rents near the Brooklyn cafe consistently range between $110 and $125 per square foot, and those near the East Village cafe are similar.

But some underlying factors contributed to Boris & Horton's downfall, including specific expenses to operate a dog-friendly cafe. The business faced higher insurance premiums, had to hire additional staff to clean up dog hair and accidents, and, under city Health Department guidelines, could only use disposable utensils, plates and cups for eating.

On top of those rising costs, Mikhly said, “we had a difficult holiday season.” A canine respiratory virus spread, causing customers to cancel reservations for dog birthday parties and reservations for events at the space.

“We decided to leave everything,” Mikhly said.

When the closure was announced on Instagram in February, more than 1,800 comments poured in. Dog owners, dog lovers, animal rescuers and pet influencers expressed their sadness at the news.

Among them was Amanda Gerzog, a 28-year-old digital marketing strategist who works out of the East Village location several times a week. As soon as she heard it, she crossed the street from her apartment to the cafeteria.

“I could see that people were surprised and sad, like me,” Gerzog said. And his family dog ​​died around the same time, which “lit a little bigger fire under me,” he said.

From a table at the cafe, Gerzog started a GoFundMe campaign to “take advantage of the shock we were all feeling,” he said. “I knew I had to show the owners how much the community valued them.”

“Amanda really encouraged us,” Holzman said. “We're so glad she did it.”

As donations poured in, Ms. Gerzog reached out to local media outlets and social media accounts such as New York Locals and Dog Jokes Comic to raise awareness.

Ari Shaffir, a prominent comedian who has frequented the cafe since its inception, posted a video asking his followers to donate. “It's a real gem in the East Village,” Shaffir says in the clip. “Let's support small businesses.”

In less than a week, more than $20,000 had been raised. At that time, Mikhly and Holzman asked Gerzog to pause the campaign and requested that the initial funds be used to pay employees during the shutdown. So the owners started their own campaign. Donations continued to come in, ranging from a few dollars to $12,000.

To its fans, Boris & Horton's was a third place where everyone seemed to know your name, or at least your dog's.

In fact, many of the cafe's customers don't have pets. “It's our way of having a dog without having a dog,” said Hannah Isenhart, 25, a regular who lives nearby with her boyfriend, Brett Rojas, 26.

But not everyone was so supportive. Some people on social media noted that the cafe always seemed busy and blamed an unrefined and perhaps naive business model for its problems. Neither Mikhly nor Holzman had experience in the hospitality industry before opening Boris & Horton, named after their own dogs. They said the concept for the cafe came to them one day while taking the dogs for a walk.

Then, last week, Boris & Horton landed in New York magazine's Approval Matrix (a sarcastic rating of recent cultural events on a grid) in the ignominious vulgar/despicable sector. “We didn't love where we stood on it,” Mikhly said, “but we loved being included in something so iconic.”

While the reopening has been smooth, preparing for the future has required several changes to the cafes' business model.

Foot traffic was never an issue – both locations are close to dog parks and major subway stops. But during the week, many customers used the cafes as co-working spaces, staying “six or seven” hours, according to Mikhly, and some let their dogs play in the designated area while they worked.

“The dogs are busy,” she said, “so it's basically like daycare.” Cafes provided that service for the price of a cup of coffee, while pet sitting in New York can cost between $50 and $70 a day.

So owners now have a suggested visiting fee, in addition to the price of food or drink: $5 without a dog, $10 with one. “It's kind of like a museum,” Holzman said.

There's a new optional membership, for $40 a month, that provides invites to exclusive events and a huge goodie bag each month.

And laptops are now banned on weekends after 10am. Still, last Sunday, around 3:30 p.m., more than five guests worked. “We have received some opposition,” Holzman said, “so we are reconsidering how quickly we will introduce all the changes.”

“I'm a little worried about when the hype dies down,” said Quincy Greene, 30, manager of the East Village location, “but I'm hopeful. I love this place.”

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