When the wooden gate swings open, Beycon, Brandon and Django rush to the front of BB’s Playhouse, barking a furiously shrill greeting to their pal Trish, a big, fluffy snow-white Goldendoodle.
They do zoomies around the space, playing paw tag among the leafy-green trees, grass and storybook clouds of the hand-painted mural that covers the walls.
Tony Bendinelli and Richard Pando, partners in life and in business, are having just as much fun as the canine charges they cater to.
Wearing matching light-grey sweatsuits and baseball caps, they supervise the pack, getting sloppy kisses as a reward.
Tony is tall, Richard is dark; each is bearded.
Since opening the doggie day-care and boarding boutique on Broadway nearly a year ago, Tony and Richard have been spending all their waking hours (and sometimes even their sleeping hours) at BB’s.
They’ve never stopped to tally their time, but, gee, they easily spend 40 to 60 hours each per week with their furry friends.
But they knew exactly what they were getting into: Since he was 16, Richard has worked in retail, mostly men’s wear and men’s and women’s footwear; Tony, an uber athlete who is a part-time CrossFit coach and personal trainer, has made his career in the catering/events planning business.
Richard, who is from Tampa, Florida, and Tony, who hails from San Angelo, Texas, arrived in Astoria around the same time.
They met at Ritz, a bar and lounge in Hell’s Kitchen, some 15 years ago.
“It was one very drunken night,” Richard says. “His first words to me were, ‘Do you need water?’”
They exchanged phone numbers or business cards, their versions of the story diverge on this point, but it doesn’t really matter because they ended up together.
They had their first date a month after their introduction.
“Richard called me and invited me to dinner,” Tony says.
“I made Spanish tapas,” Richard says, adding that it’s a specialty of his, one he learned to make from his Spanish immigrant parents.
Both agree the food was fantastic.
They had brunch together the next day, and three years later Tony moved into Richard’s Astoria apartment.
As the years went by, Richard moved up in the retail world, eventually managing several stores for a series of different companies, while Tony made his mark in the events-planning industry.
Their jobs ended during the pandemic: Tony lost his immediately; Richard managed to hang on a little longer.
“I was working for a Spanish fashion company that was opening a retail store in Manhattan, and I was the only employee who didn’t lose my job,” he says.
Tony stepped up to help him out with the store’s online sales, which were the only thing keeping the enterprise going.
“We used to ride Citi Bikes to Manhattan, package up the shoes and send them off,” Tony says. “The streets were empty – it felt like we were the only people there.”
It was during this time that they began talking about starting their own business.
“For a hot second, we were going to have a Spanish tapas restaurant,” Tony says, adding that he’s very happy that idea didn’t work out because, well, restaurants really are a lot of work, and the equipment is quite costly.
Their two rescue dogs – 7-year-old Beycon (it’s pronounced Bacon) is a Treeing Walker Coonhound, and 11-year-old Brandon is a Chihuahua/German Shepherd mix (don’t’ even ask) – inspired BB’s Playhouse (get it, B and B, Beycon and Brandon?).
Tony and Richard hope to open more BB’s Playhouses as this one gets off the ground.
“We will always keep them small,” Richard says, as he scoops poop off the floor then cuddles the canine who deposited it there.
“Because,” adds Tony, “we want to keep them personal.”
That’s right, Richard adds, “We want every dog to have the best experience possible.”
Tony will spend the night at BB’s Playhouse caring for some boarders.
Come 10 p.m., when it’s officially lights out, he’ll be on the floor on a thick roll-up mattress, canines curled around him, watching TV.
Copyright 2023 by Nancy A. Ruhling