In conversation with Jade and Michele from Hackney Barkers

When You Know, You Know

Sometimes, when looking for a home for yourself, your family or your business, the place chooses you. That’s what happened for Hackney Barkers, the East London dog grooming experts. They shared their story with Tales of the City.

The magic moment

It is a January afternoon in East London and a young couple, Jade and Michele, are walking along Chatsworth Road, E5. Jade is from North-west London, Michele from Sardinia, and together they are full of dreams of living and starting a business in Hackney, the borough they have felt calling to them for some time. They are also full of ambition, to run a state-of-the-art dog grooming salon with a community-focused ethos.

Chatsworth Road is its usual vibrant self that winter’s afternoon. Jade and Michele are flexible of course, but this road in particular is where they would love to be. Having recently made their home nearby, they are just beginning their search for a commercial property. There’s nothing available on Chatsworth Road but they are not going to rush this process or give up easily on their dream.

They notice a building site on the street, where one property is being divided from another. In the window of the new empty shopfront is an Irish Terrier standing on its hind legs, its paws on the window, surveying the neighbourhood. The dog looks at them and Michele turns to Jade and says, “This is it. This is going to be our place.”

They just knew

A man emerges from the back of the empty shop and sees the couple playing with his dog, through the window. A conversation starts up. He is an estate agent, and the shop is going on the market. The rest is history.

Welcome to Hackney Barkers dog grooming salon, 70 Chatsworth Road, London E5.

Where everybody knows your name

“I was born and raised in North-west London,” Jade says. “But my dad used to work with my uncle on properties in this part of East London and he always loved Chatsworth Road. That’s why I had a thing about it. When Michele and I moved to the area, it was lovely to meet the people Dad knew and feel welcomed by them. We’ve kept those friendships going.”

As they worked on the shop in preparation for the opening of their business, Jade and Michele got to know all the local shops, cafes and restaurants, using them every day.

“I had suddenly found something I missed from the small town in Italy I grew up in,” Michele says, “where you know the mechanic and the barber and everyone. It is perfect for what we want our business to be a part of. I had never known my neighbours in London before.”

As work progressed on the salon, other shopkeepers and business owners would come in and introduce themselves and then, as news of the dog grooming business about to land on the road spread, local residents started knocking on the door and asking when they were opening and what they would be offering.

“We got to know a lot of our dogs before ever meeting them, with owners stopping by to talk about their needs.”

Recently, when the Wi-Fi and phone went down in the shop, a customer telephoned the fruit and veg shop two doors down and asked them to let Jade know they were running late. “When our neighbour came in with the message and found out we were without internet, he just gave us his password so we could keep working properly. This is the sort of thing that makes us feel that we have found the perfect home for our business here.”

Commitment to the community

Everything that Hackney Barkers uses and sells is made in London. They host events dedicated to helping dog owners, including bringing in two East London-based dog behaviour specialists who are experts in city reactivity for all breeds and help owners communicate better with their dogs by understanding their body language and reactivity cues. “Since lockdown,” Michele explains, “many dogs are suffering from a form of separation anxiety now that they do not have their owners with them in the house all day. We have observed this problem for ourselves and are helping people with that. It’s important for people to not feel alone with their concerns and questions if they have got a nervous dog.”

Jade and Michele are also excited about another community project they are working towards making a reality – helping rough sleepers and their pets. “We will be working with local homeless shelters,” Jade explains, “offering free dog grooming services to the pets of homeless people and simultaneously raising money so that shelters can find increased space, to allow more rough sleepers with dogs in. At the moment, a lot of homeless people prefer to sleep on the street rather than be separated from their dog.”

The vibe

“We get everyone from all walks of life coming through our door,” Jade says. “It’s simple, the common denominator is that everybody wants the best for their pet, and that’s what we want to give them. What we care about is the dog being happy.”

Hackney Barkers operates on the basis of booking a small number of appointments per day so that the atmosphere inside is relaxing for dogs. There is time and space for the dogs to play, time even for them to take a break during a grooming session. It’s not a fast-paced environment, there are no conveyor belts and no hooks for dogs to be tied up on the lead. It’s free range and homely.

“We spend time with the owners,” Michele says. “We made that decision from the outset, and this is not just about the dogs’ experience but how we want to spend our daily working lives. Our aim is not to make as much money as possible but to provide the experience for the dogs and the owners that fits our ethos. We believe that doing things this way round will bring people to us and that making a decent living will follow.”

Days off

Time off from running your own business is of the utmost importance and London is a voyage of discovery that need never end. Jade and Michele use their downtime to allow their growing love affair with the East End to deepen.

“Last Saturday, we went to Shoreditch for lunch. After that, we strolled into Dalston, stopped at a nice little bar for a cocktail. Then we walked through De Beauvoir Square for the first time, and we were open-mouthed at how incredibly beautiful it is. Then we went for a local pizza. I think that’s what makes this area special. You go from a very upbeat, hip Dalston Lane to, two minutes round the corner, extremely quiet streets with no traffic and people ambling around.”

“Because London is London, you are constantly discovering things, whether it’s a bar that you didn’t realise was there or an entire area. The thing about exploring, by walking or using the overground, is that you not only discover places but realise how different areas connect up so easily. You piece London together, and then you return home to your own bit.”

Dogs only, I’m afraid

“A lot of humans come in without a dog an ask if they can book in for their nails or for spa treatments. What tends to happen is that we smile, they look around, get it, laugh and pay us a compliment on how appealing the salon is.”

The shop front is all glass and on Sundays, when the market is on, a crowd tends to gather and watch the Hackney Barkers ply their trade. It all adds to the buzzy, vibrant atmosphere of the street.

“It’s a very communal moment,” Michele says, “because it’s a very specific situation when basically you’re doing what you do for a living, and you are being watched by this huge crowd who are fascinated because it is quite an interesting profession.”

“We hadn’t anticipated that,” Jade adds, “the dog grooming version of the Truman Show on Sundays, but it’s something we love and feels like a metaphor for being a small boutique business set in the heart of a community with a strong, open and very homely identity.”

Find out about the full range of services at the multi-award-winning Hackney Barkers: