For the past four years, Eric Huber and his wife, Julie, have been quietly operating Lake Erie Pet Food Company as a convenient way to get natural, locally-made dog and cat food delivered to Northeast Ohio pet lovers.
Tomorrow, Wednesday, June 12, the Hubers will officially open the doors to their first brick-and-mortar retail store at 4164 Lorain Ave. in Ohio City.
“We’re excited about expanding into the store because we have quite a few customers now,” says Eric. “We kind of bend over backwards for our customers.”
In fact, more than 1,000 dogs and cats in Northeast Ohio currently receive monthly deliveries of Lake Erie Pet Food. Staff members deliver the food directly to customers’ doors throughout Cuyahoga County and parts of Lorain and Lake Counties—making between 150 and 200 deliveries three days a week. The company will continue its home delivery service in tandem with its new retail operation.
The Hubers first rented the 1,000-square-foot storefront and adjacent 2,500-square-foot warehouse in September, when they moved delivery operations from their previous location in Avon Lake. Since then, they have been using the warehouse while they renovated the storefront and designed a new logo and exterior signage.
Eric says converting the 1915 building from office space to retail space has been a challenge.
“We nearly gutted the entire place and uncovered beautiful original details of the 100-year-old building,” he says. “We were able to expose original brick walls and restore the stunning stamped tin ceiling. From there, we added a huge vintage buffet and hutch, and [we have] custom-built fixtures in nearly every part of the store. While working on it has been rewarding and exciting, it’s been very much a labor of love.”
Huber built all the fixtures himself, including shelving, food bins, and cash wrap.
Eric Huber of Lake Erie Pet FoodHuber believes Ohio City is the ideal location for Lake Erie Pet. “We know where our customers are because we deliver to them,” he says. “We decided right away we wanted to have a close relationship with our customers, and this is a central location and easy access point.”
The store will not only sell Lake Erie Pet’s dog and cat food varieties—including five varieties of dog food (with three grain-free recipes), puppy food, and two varieties of cat food (with one grain-free recipe)—but also carry various pet treats and supplies.
"We have all-natural bones and chews and a ‘raw bar’ of freeze-dried treats, and healthy dehydrated jerky treats," says Eric. "Plus, we also have some fun leashes and collars, toys, and bowls—and even a few things for dog [and] cat moms and dads.”
All of Lake Erie Pet’s food is all-natural, made with meats, fruits, and vegetables that are fit for human consumption—meeting the high European standards for pet food (which are much higher than U.S. standards).
The food is made locally by Lake Erie Pet’s partner—a small-batch specialty pet food maker based in Lisbon that has been in business 40 years. “We’re not making this in our garage,” Huber says. “Everything is lab-tested, and we make it at a slower pace and at a lower temperature, which [retains] the nutrients.”
In addition to stocking 10- and 20-pound bags of food, the store will also host gravity bins, where customers can buy the food by the pound.
Darla and Roody Eric and Julie started Lake Erie Pet when one of their two dogs—Roody, a border collie mix—developed digestive issues. (Darla, a pug, is the other dog.) So, the Hubers began researching national pet food brands and their ingredients, and they were surprised by what they found.
“It was overwhelming and confusing to try and figure out what was actually in the different foods,” Huber recalls. “Full of marketing tricks and sub-par ingredients, a lack of regulation around dog food has led to a wide range of quality.”
When Roody and Darla began eating natural dog food, the Hubers were surprised at the improvements. Roody’s digestive issues disappeared and both dogs had more energy and shinier coats.
With that, the Hubers launched Lake Erie Pet as a way for Northeast Ohio pet owners to not only buy healthy, locally manufactured food, but to also get expert advice on nutritional needs for their pets.
“The mission of Lake Erie Pet Food is centered on helping folks understand what to look for in pet food and the kind of impact it has on their four-legged loved ones,” Huber says. “We provide folks with a local option so they can directly know and trust who is providing premium nutrition for their pets.”
They originally started by selling the food at farmers markets and other events around the region—offering free samples to potential customers—and quickly grew a thriving home delivery service. By the end of 2018, Lake Erie Pet had grown to the point that the Hubers wanted a physical space where they could sell the food and offer nutritional advice to pet owners.
“With local, trusted nutrition; personal customer service from a real person just down the street; and the convenience of delivery, Clevelanders have really taken to us,” Eric says. “And we couldn’t be more appreciative and excited.”