A dog is a man’s best friend. That saying should be tweaked to say a woman’s best friend, too.
Cotton’s Café is a business born out of Janet McCarty’s love for a lost puppy in the woods. Nearly three years ago a litter of stranded puppies were found in the woods by a friend of McCarthy. With love at first sight, she agreed to adopt a small white puppy that had a little black eye patch.
“The mother abandoned the litter,” said McCarty. “She was one pound when I took her home. She was way too tiny. I was determined to do whatever it takes to keep her alive.”
She needed to make up for the lost nutrients in the puppy’s mother’s milk. The puppy, named Cotton due to resemblance to a ball of cotton, was fed with vitamins and supplements when she was old enough to eat them. After six months however McCarty sadly realized the dog chow Cotton ate made her sick.
She then researched online and discovered numerous brand recalls. According to FDA there have been eight recalls on animal food in the past two months of 2015. McCarty remembers 33 brand recalls since 2013.
“These brands were recalled because they had contaminated meat products from overseas,” said McCarty.
McCarty then made Cotton’s food from scratch, flavoring them with peanut butter and honey. Upon requests she brought the handmade treats to the Mid-Town Farmer’s Market. The treats were then 50 cents each. She began seeing sales a dozen treats at a time and then she sold out every week.
“I began thinking, ‘I can get into this,’” McCarty said.
Now this year McCarty is the proud mother of two healthy dogs and the business owner of Cotton’s Café, a quickly-growing Mississippian dog treats bakery. In Oxford the eight ounce bags can be found at Hollywood Feed, Bottle Tree Bakery, Holli’s Sweet Tooth, Mississippi Madness, The Frame Up, The Barn, Local Flavor, Oxford Floral, Mid-Town Farmer’s Market, Oxford City Market, The Z Bed and Breakfast, Paws Animal Hospital and Homeward Bound. The company makes 700 bags per week and services 35 stores in Mississippi and Louisiana, using only ingredients from Mississippian farms.
“We recently got into Florida and Tennessee too,” said McCarty.
Cotton has grown to 70 pounds, just a few months shy of her third birthday. She also has a sister, a rescue dog from a puppy mill, named Clover. Together they beg their mother, McCarty, to give them their favorite treats: squash apple honey for Cotton with blueberry honey for Clover.
“I remember when Cotton first tasted it,” said McCarty, laughing. “The hair on the back of her neck stood up! She was so happy.”
The company has criteria for its ingredients: they must be bought from within Mississippi first. McCarty prefers to look for the ingredients at farms she can travel to within the state. To her it is important to shop local to avoid the risk of contamination paramount in brand dog food that are packaged in China.
“These treats are made with all natural products, no weird chemicals nor artificial ingredients. The treats aren’t preserved with salt since salt isn’t healthy for dogs either, just like with the humans,” said McCarty. She pointed to the bag’s tag line that read, “If we won’t eat it, your dog won’t eat it.”
Cotton’s Café is more than dog food to McCarty. It is a labor of love for not only her rescue dogs but for all dogs, pets and shelter. The company helps sponsor the Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society’s fundraising events. McCarty also donates the treats to the shelter dogs.
Jennifer Petermann, director of the OLHS, said, “McCarty with Cotton’s Café has been a huge supporter of OLHS and our fundraising events. And she also adopted her latest dog from us!”
McCarty’s second dog, Clover, is a rescue dog that was recovered from a puppy mill. She was physically weak from giving birth to so many litters there but has since then recovered to full health under McCarty’s attentive love. Cotton and Clover aren’t the only ones who have thrived by Cotton’s Café.
“The American dream is alive,” said McCarty. “[The café] is way more than dog treats. It’s giving people jobs and having fun too.”
Currently she has seven people employed to cook all natural dog treats at the Oxford Conference Center. McCarty connected with them through the drug court’s three year probation program as well as the Haven House on Highway 7.
Phillip Winters, her manager of the production and talent supervisor who hosts spontaneous dance parties with her, is one of the employees who received a second chance.
Winters said, “I love this job. I feel appreciated. It makes me want to go the extra mile. Cotton’s Café is going to grow tremendously and I want to be a part of it. Without my recovery I wouldn’t be here. Without Cotton’s Café I wouldn’t be here and I really appreciate the opportunity.”
“Phillip cares about this company as much as I do,” said McCarty.
Here in the video below, courtesy of McCarty, she shows the importance of working hard playing hard.
McCarty’s business plan for Cotton’s Café may sound idealistic but it is also intact. She has won three awards last spring at University of Mississippi’s Gillespie Business Plan Competition for Best Business Plan, Best Special Entrepreneurship Idea and Best Idea for Mississippi.
Since winning that competition McCarty received $10,000 and space at the Insight Office. There at the office she dreams, achieves and loves on her dogs there.
McCarty said, “This is my favorite quote that keeps me going: ‘You need to start with the why, not the how.’ This business is for not just my animals for other people’s pets. This is my passion.”
Callie Daniels is a staff writer for HottyToddy.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.