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© 2013 Nikki Beall

BARKING UP THE WINNERS’ TREE: Nikki Beall, her daughter Hunter Osborne, and boyfriend Cary Benjamin accept the award for Beall’s downtown store, Von Barkee’s Dog Spa and Bakery. Photo by Chris Brehmer Photography.

BEST DOG GROOMER: 
VON BARKEE’S DOG SPA AND BAKERY

“We love dogs!” Nikki Beall exclaims. “As I am saying that, I am thinking of Oprah on the Weight Watchers commercial where she is excitedly yelling, ‘I love chips! I. LOVE. CHIPS!’”

Such vivacity and Beall’s adoration for animals comes through at her business, Von Barkee’s Dog Spa and Bakery—winner of Best Dog Groomer for 2017. The staff’s genuine love for animals and community helps keep their services top-notch for human and doggie clients alike. “We are constantly improving our facility and honing our craft so we can provide our clients with excellent service and continue to grow as pet-care professionals,” Beall says. 

Von Barkee’s Dog Spa makes every pooch feel special, whether they’re having their nails trimmed and painted, or their hair cut and brushed, or their skin treated with a luxe blueberry facial. “We have some pretty lavish spa treatments for dog—deep conditioning treatments, feather extensions and more,” Beall says. 

They also service kitty cats for feline lovers, and they work hard to gain trust in their clients, especially ones who may have some trepidation with first entering the spa. The staff’s calming energy helps allay their fears. “Sometimes just taking a moment to have a little snuggle session with a scared pet and giving them a treat really works wonders to calm a nervous pup!” she explains. “A lot of our clients are regulars and they notice their dogs are calmer the second and third visit; the dogs are happy to come in and see us!”

However, making sure the animal is ready for grooming should be a part of every pet owner’s rearing plan, i.e. teaching him or her to stand still in order to be safely groomed. “Grooming is vital to your pet’s health for many reasons,” Beall notes. “But a misconception we deal with daily is you don’t need to do any brushing or maintenance at home, or it’s a groomers job to teach your pet to cooperate for grooming. If they have never been taught to stand or even be brushed, it can be a very stressful experience for all involved. I mean, it’s a spa day, but imagine if you were a little kid and came in with dreadlocks and your parents wanted a stranger to brush them out a couple of times a year or buzz them off with some loud weird tool you have never seen? You probably wouldn’t see that as an enjoyable experience.”

Located in the heart of downtown, Von Barkee’s is thrilled to be among many shops that are dog-friendly. Wilmingtonians know first hand how accepting the town is to pups, as they’re seen sitting beside owners at outdoor cafes or even keeping them company at local bars. From such, Von Barkee’s started a pup pub crawl, where the animals and their humans enjoy some brews (brews for humans only—doggies get water) and pleasant interactions. “The biggest challenge for me has been trying to decide what our focus should be; I have a million plans for Von Barkee’s,” Bealls explains. “I started out baking a lot of treats and offering dog sitting, as well as grooming and doing the pub crawls. Realistically, I need to pare it down and focus on one thing at a time because, initially, there was only me, and I just couldn’t do everything. Now, I have an amazing staff, and I’ve been able to really put the work into other aspects of the business and solidify our direction which will be grooming, treats and specialty products, along with a few events a year.”

Aside from grooming, Von Barkee’s sells specialty and healthy eats for pets, including grain-free treats and biscuits, along with tarts, birthday cakes, puppy truffles, and more. Beall will be expanding recipes this year and launching a line of pet products this summer.

—Shea Carver