By Anita K. Parran
“Like most start-ups, the idea began by solving a problem for ourselves,” explained Leib Dodell, who like Dave Hensley, was “constantly frustrated and puzzled” about why nobody was creating innovative spaces for people to bring their dogs. They visualized a space where they could sit, have a meal and beverage in a relaxing environment – with their dogs nearby. Dodell, who refers to himself as “a crazy dog guy” embarked on a mission. The idea of a dog park community was soon born in a bar with plans documented on a napkin.
Dodell was so dedicated to the project idea that he walked away from his career as a lawyer and insurance executive and took the leap. After five years in the making, the Bar K Dog Park opened in August of 2018 and has had more than 175,000 people guests and 110,000 dog guests to date – far beyond projections.
“It took a lot of work – regulatory research, fundraising, and then finding a property conducive to the crazy idea for people to connect with their dogs,” Dodell said. The Berkley Riverfront property, owned by the Kansas City Port Authority, believed in the project. After a massive cleanup by the Dodell/Hensley workers, the dog park with a full-service restaurant and bar was born.
“It is absolutely the perfect space: it is near the scenic riverfront Berkley Park area, accessible by public transportation, and covered by the Heart of America Bridge that provides shade and shelter,” Dodell explained. But what makes the dog park even more unique are the meeting spaces on the two-acre spread. In addition to the areas for doggie games chaperoned by dog tenders, there are ample areas for their “parents” to enjoy top chef food, especially during “Yappy Hour.”
There is a myriad of events at the dog park, including weddings and receptions, doggie birthday parties, corporate networking events, and company and association board meetings. “What’s great is that people attending any of the events can also being their dogs,” Dodell emphasized. While the calendar for Bar K is already packed with special activities, it is adding a book club component in October.
There are lot of venue choices for private and public events. The outdoor covered stage is conducive for live entertainment, panel discussions, and more. The Puppies’ Pub, decorated like an Irish pub, measures 20’ x 20’ and has a doggie play space with catering capability. The Roof Top Patio, where the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce has held networking events for up to 100, is flexible enough to be divided into smaller events. It features two large screen TVs suitable for presentations and other forms of entertainment. The Lounge, located in the upstairs restaurant, can accommodate up to 40 individuals – but no dogs allowed! This space is adjacent to the Roof Top Patio for overflow crowds. The BearBishop Room is a smaller private meeting space overlooking the dog park on the lower level. It can accommodate up to 30 people and has two-large screen TVs and conference tables.
April Kramer, owner of Apple Pie Painting, conducts monthly “paint by numbers” events in the BearBishop Room. She typically hosts 28 guests who paint portraits of their family pets. Given photos of pet family members, she draws on canvas the pet’s face, and owners are supplied with a variety of paints to color the faces. Bar K provides the space for free, and Kramer offers a free beverage for participants. “I’m usually booked at least two months out,” Kramer said. “My company is mobile, so I use various venues around town, but Bar K is the best – a destination for everyone. The staff is extremely friendly and accommodating and the experience is totally social.”
In addition to the event spaces, Bar K offers more than an exemplary restaurant and bar service. “As a meeting venue and destination hub, we offer what we call ‘healthy casual’ food fare – and you don’t have to have a dog to enjoy a great meal,” Dodell says. Bar K offers high-quality food for people during breakfast, lunch and dinner, and also a specialty food menu for dogs that include entrees, treats and desserts.
Dodell explained that while some meeting space is free, a minimum food and beverage may apply. All special event space information can be found on the Bar K website at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Website visitors can find a plethora of FAQs about the Dog Park and calendar of events at www.barkdogbar.com.
“Our business plan is to open 10 additional Bar K dog parks in various cities over the next five years,” Dodell shared. Stay tuned – there could soon be a Bar K community campus near you.
Anita K. Parran is a contributing writer from Kansas City, MO.