A popular Maui baker known for her cakes and pastries has turned her talents toward pleasing another kind of palate: the dog kind.
Heidi Cramer says her new line of canine cookies, Maui Dog Treats, was inspired by her beloved chocolate Labrador, Snoopy. Like a lot of dog owners, she wanted the best for her pet - and was becoming alarmed by news reports about tainted or poor-quality imported pet food sickening animals.
"I just wanted something all-natural made with human-grade ingredients," she said. "A healthy treat for my dog."
Maui Dog Treats creator Heidi Cramer holds Simon, her brand’s new spokesdog
KEITH ROBERTSON photo
Local baker Heidi Cramer created her natural dog biscuits out of human-grade ingredients including pumpkin, cinnamon and peanut butter. While most of her customers are dogs, a few people do snack on the treats, she said.
Photo courtesy of Maui Dog Treats
She whipped up a test batch of pumpkin peanut-butter biscuits in her bakery kitchen, and, after receiving an enthusiastic review from Snoopy, realized she might have a new product on her hands.
"I just thought this would be something I would do for fun as part of my business, but it's becoming an entity on its own," she said.
Cramer has owned bakeries on Maui for the past 13 years, including Cakewalk, a former storefront bakery in Paia and Haiku, and is now operating Maui Sweet Cakes, catering specialty cakes and desserts for weddings and other events.
Since launching Maui Dog Treats this year, Cramer says she has been surprised by how quickly the product has taken off. The treats are now available in Whole Foods stores on Maui and Oahu, as well as 11 other locations on the Valley Isle. To boost holiday sales, she will also be selling the treats at a kiosk at Queen Ka'ahumanu Center from Nov. 15 to Jan. 15.
Cramer says she expected that she'd find a market in pet stores and maybe grocery stores but didn't realize she'd also do a brisk business in clothing boutiques, coffee shops and gelato parlors.
"I really had no idea how vast the market would be," she said.
Cramer also expanded her line to include a gluten-free biscuit - while some dogs really are allergic to wheat, she also realized that some humans who have jumped onto the gluten-free trend might want the same options for their pets.
A dog "lei" made of the flower-shaped biscuits has also been added to her line as a gift item.
While she's received a lot of wagging tails and slobbery smiles from dogs, Cramer has also been surprised by some of her fans. One woman informed Cramer that she gives the sugar-free treats to her 6-year-old daughter. Another diabetic customer initially bought the biscuits for his dog and then read the ingredient list and realized he could share the bag.
While the treats were "developed for a dog palate," they are made with human-grade ingredients like pumpkin, cinnamon and peanut butter. Cramer, who has munched on a few herself, said they taste like a "dry, bland, sugar-free cookie."
"People might not choose to eat them, but if they want to, they can," she said. "They don't taste like dog food; they taste like actual food."
But just as Cramer was beginning to see her new product take off, she was struck a blow when the inspiration for her brand, Snoopy, died unexpectedly in July, a few weeks before he would have turned 10.
"I was a basket case," said Cramer. "I've been through loss, but I've never been through pet loss like this. It's so different, because pets are such a constant energy and presence in your daily life - more than most humans."
Losing Snoopy has made the success of Maui Dog Treats bittersweet, but with Snoopy's profile as her logo, and a product aimed at keeping dogs healthy, Cramer says she hopes her business will honor the memory of her beloved pet.
"I love that his inspiration will live on," she says. "It kind of makes it more important now."
And she's found a new spokesdog. A few weeks ago, Cramer adopted Simon, an adorable pointer-mix puppy, from the Maui Humane Society. She felt an instant bond, especially after finding out that Simon was born within a day or two of Snoopy's death.
"I wasn't planning on getting one so soon," she said. "But it was the right dog at the right time. I'm really thankful for Simon, because he helped a lot."
And as for Maui Dog Treats?
"Simon loves them," Cramer says.
* Ilima Loomis is a Maui-based writer and editor. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Neighbors and "The State of Aloha," written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.