Houston pet-food chain Natural Pawz saved from bankruptcy, founders come out of retirement

A popular Houston pet-food chain that was set to close, because its parent company declared bankruptcy, has new life thanks to its founders, who came out of retirement to save it.

Natural Pawz has 24 locations in Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. Just a month ago, there were 'liquidation sale' signs hanging on the door, but the threat of closure is gone, after a few crazy weeks.

In the Washington Avenue location, people are busy shopping with inquisitive dogs in tow. Michael Daywood makes frequent visits with his dog, Chewie, "We take baths here; we get all his food and treats here; he drags us over here, once a week, for his own treats."

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For these customers, the prospect of losing the natural pet-food store was sad, "Honestly, I would know where I would get the dog food I need," says customer Freeman Wyche.

The crisis was averted when Nadine Joli-Coeur and her husband Biff Picone finalized buying the chain in Delaware bankruptcy court, nearly five years after they sold the business they founded. The decision started when they got a call from former employees about the impending closure.

They have put a lot of effort into making Natural Pawz what it is today, following our vision that we started in 2005," says Picone, "We couldn't let them be unemployed."

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Now, those 140 people still have a job and are a little amazed at the effort to jump 'out' of retirement to see the business survive. "I absolutely love them," says long-time employee Taralynn Smith, "I've worked with them for a long time and I was really, really thrilled to hear they were coming back."

There are, understandably, growing pains. A month ago, Joli-Coeur and Picone were enjoying retirement without any infrastructure, in place, to run a business. "Starting from retirement, the last four years, and starting up getting a point of sale, merchant accounts, benefits, employee payroll system, it's been quite a challenge," says Joli-Coeur. 

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"We could not just see that go away," adds Picone, "Our legacy, and the hard work for 15 years, we didn't want it to just be wiped off as an afterthought."

In the short term, the couple is working with distributors to get the stores restocked and recommitting to being a 'local' place of business.

Longer term, their sales agreement with the bankruptcy court puts Kriser's pet-food stores in Texas under their control. Picone says they'll soon become Natural Pawz locations as well and he and Joli-Coeur decided they are in the experience for the long haul, with no thought of ever selling again.