Rachel Rifat had global dreams. "I was going to be the diva of international trade between China and the United States," the 29-year-old recalls. But after getting her degree in international relations from the University of Southern California in 1997, a round of job interviews with corporate America left Rifat feeling, well, uninspired. "I wasn't very thrilled with the offers," she says.
In search of an alternative of the entrepreneurial variety, Rifat took cues from her dog, Miles. "I was in the kitchen one day eating a fortune cookie, and Miles looked up at me like `Please, share the wealth,' " Rifat recalls. Considering her retired racing greyhound's sensitive stomach, she opted to read Miles the fortune instead of feeding him the treat--and her business concept was born.
The beneficiaries of Rifat's quirky idea? The satisfied hounds nationwide who feast on her Foo Man Chews, the fortune cookies for dogs. Among the fortunes composed by Rifat: "You will soon receive a scratch behind the ear," "When the cat's away, rejoice" and "Good things come to those who sit."
Honing her manufacturing capabilities was a trying process. "I created a recipe, but it was just a disaster," says Rifat. "The [cookies] would bubble or break, or they wouldn't fold." Next, Rifat commissioned a machinist to build a cookie-making machine for her--a waste of $1,200 when the machine didn't work properly.
Nothing if not innovative, the Los Angeles entrepreneur called a Santa Barbara, California, convent to solicit use of their altar-bread machine on a part-time basis. "I said, `Sister, do you mind if I use it on Sundays when it's your downtime?' and she said, `No, but we'll definitely say our prayers for you.' "
The result? Rifat considers it a productive blend of heavenly intervention and her own dogged determination: Today, she works with a cookie manufacturer in San Francisco to make her Foo Man Chews, which are now sold in pet stores, Nordstrom department stores and gift shops. Her Hollywood Dog Co., which projects sales of $100,000 this year, recently released a second canine treat to rave bowwows--Bogey's Baguette Chews, miniature nine-grain French baguettes flavored with basil and garlic.