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Boris & Horton, a Dog-Friendly Cafe, Reopens, With a Few New Tricks

A triumphant mood hung in the air at the East Village cafe Boris & Horton, as good boys and good girls scampered, barked, sprawled and ogled an array of treats.

“We’re here two times a day during the week,” said Monica Hu, a longtime customer, with her three pugs at her feet last Sunday. “There’s no place like it in the city.”

The 2,100-square-foot cafe on the corner of 12th Street and Avenue A spans three former storefronts, that have been converted into a seated dining area where dogs are allowed but no food can be ordered, a seated area where only humans are allowed, and a takeout window. (The separation is what makes it a dog-friendly cafe, rather than a dog cafe, in the style of cat cafes that provide the companionship.) Logan Mikhly and her father, Coppy Holzman, opened the place in 2018 and a second location in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, last summer.

The festive scene on Sunday represented a quick turnabout for the owners, who had announced on Feb. 15 that they were closing both Boris & Horton locations, much to the shock and dismay of loyal customers. Within about a week, a GoFundMe campaign driven by many of those customers raised around $250,000 to keep the business afloat. The outpouring of community support convinced Ms. Mikhly and Mr. Holzman to reconsider.

“It made us kind of nervous,” Ms. Mikhly said. “We didn’t want to take people’s money and not have a plan for it.” Wary of becoming yet another small business saved by the community only to close again, she and her father decided to revisit their business model. They reopened Boris & Horton, with a few crucial changes, on March 11.

For starters, she said, “we’re working with our landlords to renegotiate the leases.” The owners declined to share their new rent for fear of scuttling the negotiations. Nate Mallon, a broker on the deal for the Williamsburg space, said that rents near the Brooklyn cafe consistently range from $110 to $125 per square foot, and that those near the East Village cafe are similar.

But some underlying factors contributed to Boris & Horton’s faltering, including expenses specific to operating a dog-friendly cafe. The business faced higher insurance premiums, had to hire additional staff to clean up dog hair and accidents and, per City Health Department guidelines, could only use disposable eating utensils, plates and cups.

On top of those mounting costs, Ms. Mikhly said, “we had a tough holiday season.” A canine respiratory virus spread, causing patrons to cancel dog birthday party reservations and event bookings at the space.

“We decided to call it quits,” Ms. Mikhly said.

When the closure was announced on Instagram in February, more than 1,800 comments flooded in. Dog owners, dog lovers, animal rescues and pet influencers expressed their sadness at the news.

Among them was Amanda Gerzog, a 28-year-old digital marketing strategist who works from the East Village location multiple times a week. As soon as she heard, she walked across the street from her apartment to the cafe.

“I could see people were surprised and sad, like me,” Ms. Gerzog said. And her family dog died around the same time, which “lit a bit bigger of a fire under me,” she said.

From a table in the cafe, Ms. Gerzog started a GoFundMe campaign to “capitalize on that shock we were all feeling,” she said. “I knew I had to just show the owners how much the community valued them.”

“Amanda really prodded us along,” Mr. Holzman said. “We’re so glad she did.”

As donations came in, Ms. Gerzog reached out to local news outlets and social media accounts like New York Locals and Dog Jokes Comic to spread awareness.

Ari Shaffir, a prominent comedian who has frequented the cafe since its earliest days, posted a video asking followers to donate. “It’s a true gem in the East Village,” Mr. Shaffir says in the clip. “Let’s support small businesses.”

In less than a week, over $20,000 had been raised. At that point, Ms. Mikhly and Mr. Holzman asked Ms. Gerzog to pause the campaign and requested that the initial funds be used to pay employees during the closure. Then, the owners started their own campaign. Donations, from a few dollars to $12,000, continued to come in.

To its fans, Boris & Horton was a third place where everybody seemed to know your name — or at least your dog’s.

In fact, many of the cafes’ patrons don’t own pets. “It’s our way to have a dog without having a dog,” said Hannah Isenhart, 25, a regular who lives nearby with her boyfriend, Brett Rojas, 26.

But not everyone was so supportive. Some people on social media pointed out that the cafe always seemed busy and blamed an unrefined, and perhaps naïve, business model for its troubles. Neither Ms. Mikhly nor Mr. Holzman had experience in the hospitality industry before opening Boris & Horton — which is named after their own dogs. They said the concept for the cafe just came to them one day while they were taking the dogs on a walk.

Then, last week, Boris & Horton landed on New York magazine’s Approval Matrix — a snarky rating of recent cultural happenings on a grid — in the ignominious sector of lowbrow/despicable. “We didn’t love our position on it,” Ms. Mikhly said, “but we got a kick out of being included in something so iconic.”

While the reopening has been smooth, future-proofing has demanded several changes to the cafes’ business model.

Foot traffic was never a problem: Both locations are near dog parks and major subway stops. But during the week, many patrons were using the cafes as co-working spaces, staying for “six or seven” hours, according to Ms. Mikhly, and some let their dogs play in the designated area while they worked.

“The dogs are occupied,” she said, “so it’s basically like a day care.” The cafes were providing that service for the price of a cup of coffee, while pet care in New York can cost around $50 to $70 per day.

So the owners now have a suggested visit fee, in addition to the price of food or drink: $5 without a dog, $10 with one. “Kind of like a museum,” Mr. Holzman said.

There’s a new, optional membership, for $40 a month, that provides invitations to exclusive events and a large bag of treats each month.

And laptops are now banned on weekends after 10 a.m. Still, last Sunday, around 3:30 p.m., more than five guests worked away. “We’ve gotten some pushback,” Mr. Holtzman said, “so we’re rethinking how quickly we bring in all of the changes.”

“I’m a bit worried for when the publicity dies down,” said Quincy Greene, 30, a manager at the East Village location, “but I’m hopeful. I love this place.”

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