Tell most restaurateurs that their places have gone to the dogs, and you'd be paying them an insult. Say the same to Steve Zumoff and not only would he agree, but admit that's kind of the idea at the Double Wide Grill.
Because in this case, it's nothing to do with quality of food or service. Rather, Mr. Zumoff's South Side restaurant recently received approval on a meticulously crafted variance to allow dogs on the premises of its expansive front patio.
Opened in 2006 in an old Carson Street service station, the Double Wide developed a fiercely loyal following among neighborhood dog owners, who might stop for a nosh or a nip with Fido in tow.
Embracing their canine clientele, the restaurant added a small "doggie" menu -- chicken, hamburger meat, or tofu "for vegetarian dogs," Mr. Zumoff joked. Water bowls and treats were kept on hand. The restaurant even adopted a cartoon mascot: a three-legged dog named "Lucky."
But not every visitor was as enthusiastic. Complaints -- no word if they were from jealous cats -- eventually reached the Allegheny County Health Department, and in 2011 the Double Wide was told to end the practice.
Steve Steingart, chief of the County's food safety program, said that because Double Wide's patio is fenced in -- and hence part of the premises -- it has to be treated the same as the restaurant's interior, where only service or police dogs are permitted. (He added that other restaurants that use public sidewalks for outdoor seating areas aren't subject to the same scrutiny and can allow dogs outside.)
Mr. Zumoff, a dog lover, was undeterred. He researched laws in various states and municipalities that allowed for dogs and diners to mingle.
"Every city and state has different decrees and you know Pennsylvania -- there are always more rules here," he said.
"I just got back from San Diego, where I sat at a restaurant table next to a couple with a dog that licked me," Mr. Steingart said. "Personally, it doesn't bother me. But there are many people who it does bother."
The biggest concern has to do with cross-contamination -- so much for the adage about a dog's mouth being cleaner than a person's.
Mr. Zumoff also copied some of the rules used at PNC Park during the Pirates' popular "Pup Nights" promotions during which fans can bring their dogs to the ballpark and sit in a cordoned area.
Ultimately he and Mr. Steingart crafted a plan with 26 specific stipulations for the variance. Chief among them: dogs and their owners are segregated from everyone else in one corner of the patio by a picket fence.
"It's so specific that it went down to the width of the gaps between the pickets," Mr. Steingart said, praising Mr. Zumoff's commitment to compliance. "We made it if you don't have a dog or don't want to be near a dog, you would never have to go near this area."
Other rules state that orders are to be placed and picked up at a central servers' station. Patrons bus their own tables. All plates and utensils are disposable. Servers are forbidden to pet the dogs.
The area opened on April 6, and was crowded with people and pups during brunch service this past Sunday afternoon. A shiba inu yipped at one table, a puggle eyed up his master's pancakes at another, while a goldendoodle hid under his owner's chair.
Jay Armstrong of Sewickley dined with his family while his daughter Hilary's brindled Plott hound-pit bull mix, Duke, laid quietly at their feet.
"It reminds me of something you'd see in San Francisco or New York City. It's really cool. I appreciate that the owner went to all the trouble to do this," he said.
Mr. Zumoff concedes that it's good for business, but, "I just like to see the dogs around. They make it more fun around here."
To that end, he's planning a "dog festival" on June 30 on South 24th Street, next to the restaurant.
Server Mindy Kellar took care of the dog section during Sunday's brunch -- all from behind the fence.
"We can't come over to the tables so I just kind of yell over and see if anybody needs anything," she said, adding that the tips were better than she would've imagined given the untraditional nature of the service, but that may be because the dogs put those around them in a good mood.
"Everyone seems to be more chill. People bring their dogs and they're just automatically more relaxed and happy."
Dan Gigler: firstname.lastname@example.org.