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Business Briefs: Gay twins launch organic pet care company

by Matthew S. Bajko

kin+kind co-owner Janine Ling holds her dog, Mishka,<br>while her twin brother, Thomas Ling, holds one of his dog's sisters. Photo: Leon<br>Le Photography
kin+kind co-owner Janine Ling holds her dog, Mishka,
while her twin brother, Thomas Ling, holds one of his dog's sisters. Photo: Leon
Le Photography  

After she adopted Mishka, a tan and white pit bull mix that suffers from allergies, Janine Ling couldn't find any pet care products suitable for the rescue dog. So the New Jersey pet store owner turned to her gay fraternal twin, Thomas Ling, for help in creating a line of organic shampoos, conditioners, and other products suitable for dogs with sensitive skin and other issues.

"There are products out there but none of them work. In many, the first ingredient is water, but you don't want to put it in a dog's ear with infections," said Janine Ling, who also owns a grooming business.

As they researched what products were available, Thomas Ling said the siblings discovered that the focus seemed to be on providing "the least expensive shampoo without a focus on quality." While he believes that "has changed fairly recently with the demand for natural and organic products, there is still a big catch up because all the market leaders are still focused on providing the cheapest possible item. It has been a great opportunity for us, because there is not a lot of competition in the pet care space."

The 36-year-old twins, who both identify as gay, launched their line of pet care products called kin+kind in the summer of 2015. They choose the name for it evokes a sense of family.

"Our dogs are our family so the things we want for them are the same things we want for ourselves," said Thomas Ling, a lawyer who focuses on running the company full-time.

As they experimented with different formulas, their own dogs served as product testers. Thomas, who lives in New York City, adopted Burke , a rescue mutt, while Janine, who lives in the Garden State, also owns Banta, a shepherd huskie.

"We had a few people working on it. The base took a few months to come up with," said Janine Ling. "Since then, we have been expanding the line as different needs arise and with different scents."

They sell a charcoal deep clean dog shampoo and charcoal conditioner for dogs, an argan oil restoring dog shampoo, an oatmeal soothing dog shampoo and a puppy tearless dog shampoo. All cost $14.99 for a 12 oz. bottle or $19.99 for a 16 oz. bottle and can be ordered online at https://www.kin-kind.com/.

The ingredients are all "things we use in our daily lives," noted Janine Ling.

They picked charcoal, said Thomas Ling, because "it does a great job to draw to it things that smell bad or stain."

They test marketed the products, made at a facility they own in New Jersey, in Janine Ling's own store first and then the stores of her friends. They also asked several pet groomers and veterinarians they know to carry their line. Since then kin+kind has taken off, with hundreds of stores across the country now carrying their products.

At the lesbian-owned Noe Valley Pet Company in San Francisco, the nose and paw moisturizer ($9.99) from kin+kind flew off the shelf.

"I don't think it is a surprise because there was a dearth of that premium product on the market," said Thomas Ling. "The challenge is trying to educate stores that haven't focused on high-end products outside of San Francisco, New York or Los Angeles."

Nonetheless, one of their best markets has been Texas. And pet stores off the beaten path have also embraced them.

"Some of our best stores are located in the middle of nowhere," said Thomas Ling. "Once the consumer understands the difference, they want that kind of product."

The twins â€" Thomas Ling is older by 30 seconds â€" have expanded their offerings to include a supplements line, a scent line featuring candles and body deodorizers, and a flea and tick line.

They are now looking to expand internationally. They are working with a distributor in the United Kingdom and hope to be in Japan and China by 2018.

"I think demand in East Asia is probably the strongest in the world for premium products," said Thomas Ling. "In China they don't have the same quality controls, so people who want premium products look for U.S. made."

They declined to provide any sales figures, since kin+kind is a private company. The Lings did say they have no desire to sell to a larger pet care company.

"We get frequent inquiries from equity firms," said Thomas Ling. "This is something we built and is valuable to us. It is not something we are looking to divest ourselves of."

Castro ice cream parlor opens its doors

It's launch delayed for nearly two years due to PG&E dragging its feet on upgrading its space, the Castro Fountain has finally opened its doors and is dishing up its signature ice creams and desserts. After a soft-opening period in recent weeks, the shop is hosting a grand opening celebration this weekend starting at noon Friday (May 12) and running through Sunday.

Located at 554 Castro Street, the 1930s style soda fountain and bakeshop is the second location for owner Juliet Pries . She first opened the Ice Cream Bar in Cole Valley, which is a full service restaurant and known for its unique adult beverages.

In 2015 she signed the lease for the former retail space in the heart of the city's gayborhood and had hoped to open that year. But as the B.A.R. reported in March 2016, the doors remained closed while Pries cajoled the utility company to begin working on the space. She credited the article with kickstarting the process.

"If you hadn't written that story, I still may not be open," Pries said this week.

The Castro location is smaller than her first and will not be offering alcoholic drinks anytime soon. Pries told the B.A.R. she is reluctant to have to go through the city's "unbearable" permitting process for a third time.

"I wanted to just get open and then pursue that if I can," she said of seeking a liquor license for the Castro Fountain.

With a Streamline Moderne design, the shop is decked out with peach and black tiles, a copper mirror, and a restored 1930s soda fountain situated underneath a skylight. The Castro Fountain seats 12 people inside and approximately 12 at outdoor tables.

Overseeing the offerings at the shop is executive pastry chef Lori Rich. The menu includes yellow cake with fudge frosting, pecan pie, and Gooey Butter Cake, a St. Louis specialty. Customers can also order handcrafted sodas made to order using tinctures, extracts, and small-batch syrups.

The fountain menu also includes traditional favorites such as floats, old-fashioned milkshakes, and egg creams. And, of course, there are various ice cream flavors to choose from.

"It has been great. I can't believe how many repeat customers we have already," said Pries of the welcome the shop has already received from the neighborhood.

As of Friday the Castro Fountain will be open noon to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and from noon to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. For information call (415) 834-5457 or visit its website at http://www.thecastrofountain.com.

 

Got a tip on LGBT business news? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail m.bajko@ebar.com

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