Jobless journalist opens Slovenia’s first dog bakery

Updated 04 September 2013
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Jobless journalist opens Slovenia’s first dog bakery

Who would have thought the answer to unemployment in the city worst hit by Slovenia’s economic crisis could be meat, mint and peanut butter-flavored snacks for pooches.
But that’s just what happened for Nastja Verdnik, a 26-year-old journalism graduate who has opened the Balkan country’s first bakery for dogs.
“I used to make biscuits for my dog, but never dreamt of making a career out of it,” Verdnik told AFP in her tiny shop in the northern city of Maribor, where she sells home-made biscuits, muffins and cakes, including for dogs with allergies.
After graduating from Ljubljana University last year, her hunt for a job in journalism led nowhere. She had already made biscuits for friends’ dogs and even sold small quantities to a local pet shop.
“I saw at the employment office a program for promoting entrepreneurship among young people,” she said, so put forth the idea for a dog bakery and got immediately backing .
“Hov Hov” — Slovenian for “woof woof” — was born.
“There are more dogs registered in Slovenia than children under nine. And owners, before getting a dog, know they will have the financial resources to keep it,” said Verdnik.
Her confidence was boosted by research showing during a dog’s lifetime, owners can spend the equivalent of the price of a car on their pet.
Since she opened in June, her business — strategically located at the entrance to Maribor’s main park, a favorite playground for dogs — has not stopped growing.
“In September I will open a new shop in the capital, Ljubljana, and later might do it also abroad,” she said, with eyes on neighboring Croatia or Austria.
Once a major industrial center, Maribor has struggled more than the rest of Slovenia with the economic crisis. Unemployment in June was 18.1 percent, compared with 12.6 percent in Ljubljana.
Anger over rampant corruption in city hall also prompted violent demonstrations last winter.
But dog biscuits have proven remarkably crisis-resistant, with people in and around Maribor willing to go the extra mile to indulge their pets.
“We are not from this neighborhood, we live on the outskirts of Maribor, but we care about the quality of our dogs’ food and we also like buying them home-made biscuits,” Vera, the owner of two greyhounds, told AFP.
Hov Hov’s selection ranges from the classic beef, lamb, venison, turkey and tuna to banana, peanut butter and even mint-flavored biscuits to fight bad breath.
The snacks cost three to four euros ($4-5.50) for a 150-gram (5.3-ounce) package and are available in gluten-free and no-egg versions. She makes all shapes and sizes — bones being a favorite — and will even make special birthday cakes.
“I only use healthy ingredients as I would for my own pets,” said Verdnik, who gets advice from a veterinarian friend and adds no artificial ingredients.
And it’s not just the canines who are eating Hov Hov’s biscuits, as some of their owners confess to nibbling the vegetarian treats, said Verdnik.
“This is our second visit: now we have returned with a list of orders for our neighbors and friends,” said Marija, the owner of a German shepherd.
Keeping up supplies means baking at home an average of five kilogrammes (11 pounds) of biscuits each day. To cope with increasing demand, Verdnik plans to rent a kitchen and probably hire one or two helpers in September.
“Two hands aren’t enough any longer,” she said.
She has not totally ruled out journalism. But if she did ever find a job, she would only use her skills “to write about pets, pet-food and related issues,” she said.


The London Project: Unpretentious high-end dining in Dubai

The London Project resturant in Dubai. (Supplied)
Updated 21 January 2019
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The London Project: Unpretentious high-end dining in Dubai

  • The London Project is located on Bluewaters Island off Jumeirah Beach Residence
  • The menu features “flavors from the boroughs of London where dishes are designed to be shared”

DUBAI: We’re fans of visiting restaurants before they reach Instagram-level hype, and so during an outing to Dubai’s newest neighborhood, we had to pass by The London Project. This establishment — which opened late last month, and is located on Bluewaters Island off Jumeirah Beach Residence — is the latest addition to the emirate’s ever-changing culinary scene.

It won’t be the first eatery you’ll come across when you arrive from the mainland; it’s tucked toward the far end of the marina, near the giant, yet-to-open Ain Dubai.
Offering glorious views of the Ferris wheel attraction and the Beach JBR, the venue has launched at the right time: perfect weather makes for perfect outings.
Upon entering, there’s an instant ‘Secret Garden’ feel to the place, with bespoke plants adorning every corner right up to the top level. Try and get a table on the terrace — the views are unbeatable.

The star of the show, naturally, is the food. Designed by chefs Christopher Walker and Robert Fairs, the menu features “flavors from the boroughs of London where dishes are designed to be shared.” The food is certainly eclectic, ranging from chocolate-fed wagyu steaks to salmon flatbreads. It is a tad disappointing that each dish doesn’t come with a story of the borough it’s inspired by though — that would have been a nice touch on the menu.
We opt for small plates to share, and they’re impressive. The buttermilk chicken is perfectly juicy with just the right amount of crunch, while the braised beef in the pulled beef soft shell tacos is melt-in-the mouth. The heirloom tomato burrata is another delight: fresh and topped with a smoked raspberry sorbet that surprisingly works; while the Ika Mata ceviche marinated in coconut cream is a sight to behold.

For dessert, the restaurant’s signature is a vanilla yoghurt parfait served with fresh strawberries, and strawberry parfait.
The food, then, certainly passes the test. Another plus point? The friendly service. We were met by smiling hosts and that welcoming, laidback attitude remained throughout service. The décor and dishes are upscale, but without the air of pretension often associated with venues like these. It’s so refreshing to see.

As you’d expect with any new establishment, however, there were teething problems. While the ‘adult’ beverage menu was extensive, little information was offered regarding soft drinks, and a staff member had to take a minute to check which sodas were available. It’s important for any restaurant, not just in this region but everywhere, to understand its clientele, and be knowledgeable about ‘zero-percent’ options. After all, non-alcoholic drinks are in demand more than ever in real London, too.
We visited midweek, avoiding the more-manic weekend. However, we were distracted a couple of times during our meal by staff members discussing the evening’s service in a group huddled together right behind our table. We know that it’s important to cross-check things with colleague — it just might be more professional to do so in a quieter area away from diners.
Nevertheless, it’s evident that a great deal of detail has gone into The London Project, and if it maintains its food quality and friendly, laidback style of service, then it will fast cement itself as one of Dubai’s restaurants to watch in 2019.
And the eatery recently announced that it is now brewing its own brand of coffee, Queenie’s Estate.
“The Queens first ever official, unofficial roastery in Dubai,” the restaurant’s Instagram page stated this week. “Obviously named Queenies, and obviously roasting coffee that is strong, sophisticated, and has a touch of sass — just like Ma’am herself!”
That gives us one more reason to pay another visit.