It’s not surprising that local breweries have embraced the dog-friendly concept.
The four-legged friends make for an extra welcoming atmosphere with their wagging tails and happy smiles, and can connect people with the excuse of giving a stranger’s pup a good scratch behind the ear.
And in Alexandria, the pet-friendly concept could be evolving beyond the traditional brewery scene, thanks to two Virginia Tech alumni.
Alex Benbassat and Justin LeGore (a 2019 architecture graduate and a 2017 business management graduate, respectively), are set to host the Old Town Beer, Wine & Dog Festival at Waterfront Park on Aug. 17.
But what does that have to do with combining canines with libations and food, other than an all-day celebration for the community? The team hopes to make Alexandria home to the “world’s first,” taproom, dog park and dog shelter, all wrapped into one location, known as Brewski’s Barkhaus.
“I traveled a lot in the past three years, and I realized it’s much easier to approach people with dogs, in order to make friends and actually socialize,” says Benbassat. “So, I wanted to have a place where individuals can go, whether they have a dog or not, to be able to benefit from the presence of dogs.”
The idea stemmed from a common post-graduation bond for Benbassat and LeGore: hanging out with Rex, Benbassat’s dog, after work.
“My mom often jokes that he went to college,” says Benbassat, who raised Rex during his time at Virginia Tech, with the help of Justin LeGore and their third roommate, Cody Mudd.
After being temporarily relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina (and becoming subsequent roommates in the city), Benbassat and LeGore made a habit of taking Rex to Lucky Dog in Charlotte, where he could play at the indoor or outdoor dog park on the premises, while they enjoyed a beer and socialized with others.
They wondered, what if you could do it all in one place elsewhere? Let your dog run in a safe area and enjoy a beer, and potentially adopt a dog too?
The pair’s career paths diverged from Charlotte, taking LeGore temporarily to the West Coast, but eventually led back to Northern Virginia in Alexandria, where Benbassat relocated after completing a year-long thesis at Virginia Tech based entirely on the idea that evolved into the “barkhaus.”
He saw a need for a similar location of The Dog Bar in the NoVA area, and knew he could combine his skills, experience and curriculum to make it reality.
“The shelter idea came from also wanting shelter dogs to get socialization too, that way they can be more adoptable,” says Benbassat, who conducted research for his thesis that included the benefits of socialization of humans with canines, and vice versa, as well as how architectural design plays a role in the health of dogs within a shelter atmosphere.
His final designs for the thesis featured a waterfront landscape for the shelter, implementing concepts such as a water trough that uses storm water to hydrate the shelter dogs, as well as benches and tables in the bar area that accommodate for varying sizes of dogs and owners.
Benbassat isn’t sure how much of the original design will be implemented in the future location due to the regulations for the different factions of the business (an ABC license, a potential commercial restaurant kitchen and a dog shelter), which have made the planning a bit hectic.
But he can say that the team has explored having an on-site foster facility as another option (rather than a full-scale animal shelter), and that the team is actively pursuing two locations in the Alexandria area, with the help of two soft investors.
Benbassat and LeGore previously worked with the Alexandria Small Business Development Center to solidify their business plan, and has partnered with KUBE Architecture for further design plans.
So, what about the Old Town Beer, Wine & Dog Festival? It will act as a showcase for their unique business concept and will hopefully attract more potential investors, according to Benbassat. But more importantly, he hopes it connects the already pet-friendly community even further.
“The main goal of the event is to bring the community together, and we want to encourage even people without dogs to come out so they can interact with people and experience the benefits of dogs in this pop-up space for a day,” says Benbassat.
The event will be held at Waterfront Park, with two leash-free, fenced-in play areas for the community’s dogs to play and interact (with one for foster dogs from Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, and one for the public’s dogs—with separate areas based on dog size, for safety reasons).
For humans, there will be local brewery and winery pop-ups, live music, local pet-focused entertainment (such as a K-9 unit demonstration by the Alexandria Police Department), food trucks and Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, which will have meet and greets with the organization’s adoptable dogs from noon to 2 p.m.
Benbassat wants to encourage everyone to come out and bring their four-legged friends, and be prepared to maybe fall in love with a pup of your own when you attend. Or, fall for the concept of having your dog run around while you enjoy a beer.
“We want people to be able to meet other people and bring dogs in to really make it fun for everyone,” says Benbassat. “It’s all about bringing people together and making it easier to connect us all, especially when that feels like it keeps getting harder.”
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