Most bakery owners whip up their new treats from butter, sugar and chocolate. When Milia Bell, 41, tries out a recipe, it might feature albacore tuna, minced parsley and cheddar cheese decorations. Her customers won’t complain — they have fur and play with squeaky toys. Since 2004, Bell has been baking for canines and felines as the owner of PupCat Bakery, which she runs out of the South Burlington home she shares with a large Maine Coon. Her wares range from $1 cookies to pricier custom cakes.
We caught up with Bell — who supplements her income by working 30 hours a week at ReCycle North — to learn more about how she began baking for Buster.
Seven Days: How did you end up running a bakery for pets?
Milia Bell: A love of cooking and a love of animals. I started back in 2004, when a friend of mine’s dog had a rare kind of cancer. I started making treats for her and really enjoyed it.
My friends said: “You should sell these things.” I created a logo and packaging, and brought them to Pet Food Warehouse. It just kind of grew.
SD: What inspires you when you’re creating a new treat?
MB: When I have a new dog in my life, I play around and make something based on what [he or she] likes, but I always maintain the integrity of keeping things as local and organic as possible. I should play around with cat stuff more than I do.
SD: You do make “tuna sushi.” My cat loves it.
MB: I created that for my [late] cat Artemis. It had three things she really loved: dried bonito, nutritional yeast and seaweed, which are great ingredients for cats.
SD: That tuna sushi might not, but some of your “celebration cakes” for pups sound pretty appetizing to humans — for example, you make an “Apple Carrot Spice Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting.” Are any of your products good for two-legged folks, too?
MB: At the farmers market I would have this problem where people wouldn’t know [my cookies] were for dogs and would just start eating them. All of the ingredients I use are organic, human-grade ingredients, but the one thing that separates them from being really delicious for humans is that they have no sugar.
SD: Some of your treats, like the fetching “PupCat Tortes,” include carob — as most people know, chocolate is toxic to many animals. Is carob particularly good for dogs, or is using it more about being visually appealing to the humans?
MB: Carob is a great source of potassium, but I think that, because it looks like chocolate, people think it will be a decadent treat for their dogs. I sell a lot of canine confections around Valentine’s Day.
SD: What’s your most sensual pet creation?
MB: One of my best-selling cookies is a “Buster Pie,” a calzone-shaped cookie with a peanut butter filling. At the farmers market, I tried one that was salmon with cream-cheese filling. I could go crazy doing innovative ideas, but there aren’t a lot of places with cooling bakery cases for pets, so [the results have] gotta be shelf stable.
SD: Do you ever think about doing this full time?
MB: It’s growing. I do have accounts in Vermont, Virginia, Maine, New Jersey and Georgia. But I don’t have the start-up capital to take the big risk — I’m not quite there yet.