When Regina Nobles earned her Ph.D. in visual neurosciences from the University of Louisville nearly a decade ago, opening a dog park bar certainly wasn’t on her radar. But that’s exactly what she’s about to do, and she expects to open PG&J’s Dog Bar in the Highlands this fall.
The self-proclaimed “Ph.D. turned entrepreneur” simply got tired of the life as a professional researcher, thrown in with the fact she and her husband Ben Lovely, who holds a Ph.D. in microbiology from UofL, were living in separate cities and commuting to see each other.
She was in Houston and he was in Austin, and when she finally hit her professional wall, she decided to move to Austin and pursue entrepreneurship. That’s all she knew at the time, but when the dust settled, she decided to bring something to her hometown of Louisville — Ben is now employed by the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the UofL School of Medicine — that inspired her in Austin: a dog park and bar that was just blocks from their home in Austin.
PG&J’s Dog Bar, which is named for the couple’s three dogs, Paco, Ginnie and J Roddy, will be a place where owners can bring their dogs and enjoy a cocktail or craft beer while the dogs play with other canines. The business will be located at 800 Baxter Ave., a former Mr. Transmission and for a short time a canine daycare.
The 4,000-square-foot building will be renovated to include glass garage doors in the former car bays, with seating for about 48 at the bar and around the perimeter, as well as a roughly 7,800-square-foot outdoor area that will be re-sodded and converted into a combination beer garden and playground.
Her business partner, Richard Abell, also is serving as the general contractor for the build-out. They plan to keep the industrial feel of the place, but with welcoming, modern touches. The goal is to open PG&J’s in October and initially employ eight people.
It’s a fair question to ask why a neuroscientist feels she wants to, or is qualified to, run a business, but that’s part of the back story. Nobles has an entrepreneurial spirit, and after a seminar on entrepreneurship in Houston, she simply got the itch to work for herself.
However, she wasn’t quite sure where to begin, so she decided to run someone else’s company instead. It took a while to find a business owner who would take a gamble on her — Nobles waited tables at a Mexican restaurant for a while — but through networking resources she met the owner of a spa and was given a job managing one of the spa locations.
She tried different business strategies and tactics and measured the results. She learned the financials. She learned about marketing. Before all was said and done, she had ascended to the role of regional manager and helped open a new spa location.
“I do handle everything like it’s a scientific experiment,” she concedes. “Basically, I got an MBA without going back to school. Lord knows I don’t need any more degrees.”
So, she had the business experience, but what would the business be? The inspiration came via Yard Bar, a dog park bar near their home in Austin. She and Ben took their three dogs, all of whom are heeler mixes that have a lot of energy, several days a week to unwind and let the dogs blow off some steam.
“We could get craft beer and the dogs could run around,” she says. “It was amazing. I hate standing in a dog park watching them play, but if I can have a beer, I’ll stay all day.”
Louisville had no such concept. She was open to moving pretty much anywhere, but it turned out UofL had a position for Ben, so they came home.
The concept will be more than just people drinking and dogs playing, however. For starters, the bar will open mornings at 7:30 a.m. as a coffee bar thanks to a partnership with Fante’s Coffee, which will create special — and likely dog-themed — coffee blends for the bar. So, a customer could bring the pups there in lieu of a morning walk, pack the laptop, and also have a coffee and get some work done in the process.
In addition, one of the focuses will be to make PG&J’s a place that will help bring together the local community of pet charities and rescues, including quarterly adoption days, plus other special events centered around animal charities, be it the Kentucky Humane Association or a rescue league. Think Purrfect Day Café but for dogs, as a comparison.
Customers can pay $10 for a one-time visit to PG&J’s, or buy monthly or annual memberships at lower rates of $24.95 monthly or $199.95 for the year as introductory prices. Most of those fees will go toward maintenance and people monitoring the park area (“Bark Rangers,” Nobles calls them) and keeping the place sanitary for dogs and humans alike.
In addition, a rewards program will allow members to rack up points that can be redeemed for drinks or merchandise. Those making donations for an animal charity of the quarter also will earn points, and their donations will be given to the charity. In short, PG&J’s Dog Bar is designed to not only entertain dogs and dog owners, but to pull Louisville’s community of dog lovers together.
“That’s the whole point,” Nobles says. “If I can’t give back, what’s the point of doing this? It’s not just another bar that’s opening in the Highlands.”