Editor's note: This article was originally published May 30, 2011.
Make a curious stop at and you're likely to end up asking a lot of questions and emerge from the Calastoga Plaza location much smarter about cats' and dogs' health.
The store offers all-natural food with clearly labeled ingredients in addition to treats and toys, but more importantly provides extensive knowledge driven by a passionate love of animals on the part of both the owners and staff.
Named after 5-year-old Tucker, a 60-pound combination border collie/cattle dog/huskie/German shepherd, the store opened in February 2008. However, the store actually started out as Tucker's Doggie Retreat, an at-home dog walking and kennel for a limited number of dogs.
Nick Janowski and his wife, Stacy, started the retreat out of their home, where the business now remains. At the time, Nick was a manager for a national pet store and Stacy was earning a degree in psychology and business. It was at this time that Stacy's dad, Terry Richardson, wanted to open his own business.
After looking into all types of businesses, including franchise opportunities, a niche was identified with a need in New Lenox—or so they thought.
“We thought we'd be kinda 'boutique-y', have the toys, have the treats and the food is kinda there to keep the customer coming back,” Nick said. "But it really turned out to focus on the nutrition of the dogs.”
For Tucker's (and, of course, the actual Tucker), that means, “No corn, no soy, no wheat, no by-products, no artificial preservatives,” as Nick put it. What that leaves is more pure products with readily identified ingredients that don't require as much quantity to allow a dog to feel full.
According to Nick, this results in fewer, ahem, droppings to scoop up in the backyard. He even tells the story of a customer who claims their marriage was saved when Nick was able to reduce the amount of gas coming from the customer's dog. This was attributed to the denser food sold at Tucker's that eliminates the fillers found in food sold at large chain stores.
And it's at those large chain stores that this all-natural food is often not available for a number of reasons, especially because the small, family-owned businesses that make the food want to sell to other small businesses.
“We never choose the foods that we carry in the store based on the front of the bag," Nick said. "Have you ever looked at the back of the bag and the ingredient list? Well, that's where we start.”
It's because of this attention to detail, and the knowledge that comes as a result, that brings in those that are concerned about what their pet eats. The result is even more education, again for the customer.
"We teach them about our foods and the reason why we chose these foods."
One of their newest items are antler pieces, both full tube-like sections and those “tubes” split down the middle. (Safer than bone because they won't crack or splinter and it's just pure antler from deer, elk or moose; 100 percent calcium, as described by Nick). He said they can last well over a month, which makes the $8-16 price tag for a 6-9 inch sized piece more reasonable in the long run.
Whatever the cost for antlers, kibble made with duck or chocolate-substituted carob dessert treats, the customers keep coming for the product and the knowledge.
“I was surprised at our three year mark of being in business, we're still growing,” Nick said.