Christi Busch loves dogs and cooking — two passions that led her to create For the Love of Dutch, a startup making handcrafted meals for pups.
by Amanda Lea
About 15 years ago, Christi Busch’s beloved 2-year-old basset hound, Dutch, started experiencing some medical issues. Dutch’s veterinarian recommended a combination of medication and special kibble for his kidney problems. Since Busch understood this would likely be a lifelong condition, she decided to explore additional options to help provide her pup some relief.
Busch took Dutch to a holistic vet to learn more. The vet recommended changing his food to a raw diet, and briefly incorporating Chinese herbs with his meals. Busch noticed an immediate improvement in Dutch’s overall health and energy level, plus his coat was softer and shinier.
Dutch passed away just a few years ago, but Busch says he lived a long and healthy life. “He and Lucy, our other basset hound, defied their breed’s life expectancy, and I’ll be the first to tell you that a wholesome approach to food transformed their health,” Busch says. “Dutch’s experience was eye-opening in how changing his food could have such an impact on his overall health.”
Starting from scratch
In 2019, after years of working in risk management for a large corporation, Busch decided she was ready for a life change. Since her experience with Dutch’s diet, Busch had been cooking her dogs’ meals from scratch. When she left her corporate job, Busch had the idea to sell the fresh-made food to fellow health-minded dog owners. She talked with several holistic veterinarians in the Charlotte area and gathered feedback on what they look for in fresh food for their patients.
Busch, who was already a certified Reiki practitioner, earned her Canine Nutrition Certification from the Academy of Natural Health Science, a licensed private vocational school in New Jersey. In December 2019, she launched For the Love of Dutch, a handcrafted dog-food business in honor of the pup who inspired it all.
Though it was still a relatively small industry, Busch wanted to set her products apart from bigger, national brands that were making and selling fresh dog food. She decided to focus on what was important to her: locally sourced and environmentally sustainable ingredients, made with love, to help dogs thrive.
Busch says all the protein used in For the Love of Dutch dog food is from grass-fed and humanely treated animals raised on North and South Carolina farms. The produce is organic, sourced from farms Busch has personally visited and where she has developed close relationships with the farmers.
For the Love of Dutch meals feature various proteins (beef, pork and poultry) and seasonal produce, such as sweet potatoes and peas. One of the most popular seasonal flavors is “Lucy’s Thankful Feast,” a Thanksgiving-inspired nosh-up that includes turkey, cranberries, green beans and butternut squash.
Busch develops meal combinations based on nourishing foods that dogs enjoy eating, as well as recipes that sound appealing to their owners.
“Some of the flavor offerings come down to marketing,” Busch says. “The humans are the ones purchasing the meals, so the ingredients and combinations have to sound good to them, too.”
Each small-batch meal meets the standards of the Association of American Feed Control Officials, a nonprofit organization that sets standards for animal feeds and pet foods. To help pups meet their nutritional needs, each meal includes natural vitamin and mineral supplements like fish oil and flaxseed oil.
“For the Love of Dutch nourishes your pet in a natural way,” Busch says. “Every choice we make is driven to boost their health, wellness and vitality, which feeds not only their stomachs but also their sweet souls.”
Busch started out making the meals in her own kitchen for family and friends, but the business quickly outgrew the space. She now leases a commercial kitchen space at The City Kitch in west Charlotte and employs two chefs to help with meal preparation and a courier to help with deliveries.
The fully cooked, ready-to-serve dog food can be ordered online in 16-ounce or 56-ounce resealable bags. Each order is delivered within Charlotte and surrounding areas on Thursday afternoons via air-conditioned delivery vans that keep the food chilled. Customers leave their own coolers by the door to ensure food stays chilled upon delivery. Since the food is made with human-grade ingredients and no preservatives, Busch says it should be stored in the refrigerator and consumed within five days.
Though Busch’s dogs have passed on, she says her heart stays full being able to help others care for their pups.
“One of the most rewarding parts of this business is hearing feedback from clients,” Busch says. “It just means so much to know a picky eater has come to love our meals, or a dog with GI issues is able to eat again. People are happy their dogs are thriving, and that makes this job 100% worth it.”
One of the most treasured compliments Busch has received so far is from Sam Hart, the acclaimed chef-owner of Charlotte’s Counter- restaurant, who told her the meats and ingredients she uses are among the best available.
“She purchases better ingredients than 80% of restaurants,” Hart says.
As For the Love of Dutch continues to grow, Busch is open to the possibility of expanding into additional markets. “It would be nice to open some satellite kitchens in different cities,” Busch says. “We’re open to options, as long as we remain dedicated to our philosophy of providing sustainably minded, locally sourced food to help pups thrive.” SP