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For Queer Eye‘s food expert Antoni Porowski and hilarious hairstylist Jonathan Van Ness, the “zhuzhing” doesn’t stop at humans. The Netflix series co-stars both known to pamper the pets of their crew and makeover subjects (remember Porowski’s Corgi moment?), and fans of the Netflix series will recall Porowski’s journey in adopting a beagle-pitbull puppy, Neon.
They’ve combined their expertise (hair and self-care for JVN, healthy culinary upgrades for Porowski) and their passion for pets in the form of Yummers, a new brand for the furriest members of the family. Available at the company’s website and Petco, the line’s debut range ($15 to $30) includes gourmet dog and cat food mix-ins and functional meal toppers for addressing issues with dry skin, joints and hips, dull coats, digestion and heart health. Pet parents might be tempted to taste-test with delectable flavors such as salmon and sweet potato, cheddar cheese, chicken and ginger turkey and cranberry, and more.
The duo worked with pet industry veteran Rebecca Rudisch to launch the company, which will eventually expand beyond food, says Porowski.
“During the pandemic, I started fostering [Neon] and started feeding her kibble. I got bored looking at the kibble every single day so I started figuring out what can I add, some kind of high-price treat situation to make the meal a little more palatable. If I’m going to add lemon zest, and flake salt to my meals, I should be adding something that’s dog approved too,” Porowski tells The Hollywood Reporter. “With Rebecca’s expertise and experience, she’s guided us along the way and we’ve come up with 14 mix-ins. And it’s just the beginning!”
“I was struggling to get Liza to eat because she really didn’t like the prescription dry food. Through testing some of our stuff that went on to become meal mix-ins, she was gobbling it down and she was finally starting to gain weight and got better,” they told THR. (Van Ness identifies as non-binary and uses they/she/he pronouns.)
“I have another cat who is 9 who has a bit of an icky lower back and hip [problems] and he was just getting a little older. I was doing these oil additives for him. So all of my cats needed different things that weren’t easy to find. Some of them were such a hunt and there were things that were really necessary for my animals and that’s how Yummers came into fruition. It’s been so fun to create this together with a friend. And we think there’s so many other pet parents out there who need to fill out their pets’ diets for a multitude of reasons and Yummers is going to be such a good help for that,” explains Van Ness.
“I know this is TMI, but the poop is giving solid! They’re feeling good they’re looking good, yes! And I have one cat who has such IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), literally if you look Liza Meownell wrong, honey, if you look at her wrong she’ll just poop everywhere. This additive has her so solid and consistent. We’re here for it,” Van Ness adds.
Rudisch, who has led merchandising and business development for Petco, Target, 7-Eleven and other blue-chip companies, adds, “these two inspired me like you wouldn’t believe. As someone who’s been in the pet, retail and consumer industries for a long time, I did what I always do and I started doing the research. I learned that what these two do with their own pets is exactly what consumers are doing today in terms of bringing more variety to meals, whether it’s to make them more tastier or to make them more healthy. The fun part for me is creating with these two what I believe is an incredible brand that is going to inspire pet parents to do even more to love their pets. We’re just getting started with meal toppers and mix-ins and it’s going to be fun to give people permission to do some really great things at mealtime with Yummers.”
How did Yummers come to fruition, and what has it been like working together?
JVN: Personally, I’ve been obsessed with Antoni since the day I laid on my eyes on him. We’re very good friends. We both love pets. I had two cats when we started Queer Eye, I’ve now grown my herd to five cats, I have two dogs. Antoni has since adopted a dog. Antoni would very much load up on Benadryl and come over to see the cats throughout our journey on Queer Eye because he’s a little allergic to cats but we walk our dogs together. We’ve always bonded over our love for our pets. I’ve always posted a lot about my pets [on social media] and just how much I love them.
One day we were minding our own business one day towards the end of 2019 Rebecca called us and was like — I’m paraphrasing here — “Quaints! (Acquaintances!) I have some ideas I’d love to chat about it.” And that’s where meal mix-ins kind of came in, it was a really super cool process because at first, we weren’t exactly sure. And through our conversations, by that time I had four cats, and one of them had really intense upset tummy digestive issues and because of that could only eat dry food.
We imagine there was a lot of taste-testing involved among all of the pets. What was that like?
RR: We did a lot, we did palatability testing not only with formal suppliers, but I’m sure Larry (one of Van Ness’ dogs) and Neon and the whole gang have tried dozens of different products and given feedback and there’s definitely been a lot that’s gone into it. Combining what we know is really important around nutrition which based on my experiences. We’re co-creating this brand in a way with Petco, they’ve been really helpful along the way too. We’ve been able to leverage their expertise in the way they’ve developed and formulated the products.
JVN: It was a lot of boxes, we’d have eight weeks for everyone to try things, and you’d give feedback. It was all done during the early part of the pandemic… It was a nebulous idea prior to the pandemic, and then towards the beginning of the pandemic it really solidified. Antoni had a dog. And we went through a lot of stages. At each stage, we had a couple of months to keep refining and seeing what was working. It was really exciting, we’d submit gorgeous feedback and keep refining our ingredients. And also for our packaging, the way the colors work, every part of the brand has been a collaborative, fun process bringing our personalities and our sensibilities of humor and fun. Even the name Yummers comes from Antoni making food on Queer Eye and me going, ‘yummers!”
It’s been a very passion- and fun-filled process. These ingredients are really simple but beautiful and nicely sourced, the freeze-drying process …my cats have never been shinier.
AP: It’s such a fascinating process truly, there are so many similarities in the way I approach recipe development in the kitchen — the size that things are cut so you can actually mix it in with the other [ingredients] so that pets don’t just simply eat the morsels or the freeze-dried food and leave the kibble at the end.
My favorite part of the whole thing — because I’ll be honest, Neon will eat a slipper if you tell her it’s a snack. But that said, when we found good quality ingredients like those high-priced treats, I’m just going to say it, that are stinky [like] things that are salmon-based, she’s happier when she eats it. It affects her coat, it affects her all around. And it brings me so much joy as a pet parent to see her thrilled and so excited for her meal, so truly everybody wins.
On that note, what’s one of the top life lessons you’ve learned throughout pet parenthood?
AP: [To Jonathan] You have seven, you start!
JVN: Patience. Because all five of my cats, all of my animals are rescues. I have two cats that are really low maintenance. My other three, [including] Liza, she’s got issues. She went through it. And that has been a really exciting piece of Yummers. If you do ever have a sicker animal — I don’t want to go into such a long-ass story because I’ll be here for three hours; I’m one of those pet parents who will tell you every single vet visit.
Little Liza Meownelli is a survivor, she really had bad digestive issues from this thing she was born with, panleukopenia. She had to go from prescription-grade stuff to just normal stuff. Finding the right equation of food for her was a really big deal. The digestive additive really was a huge deal [in] getting her stomach together. She’s like 4, and this has been, that was in our second wave, by June of 2020, I had that. It’s really played a huge part. She looks so much better, she looks so much more full, she had really bad dry skin, she wasn’t wanting to eat because she didn’t like that [other] stuff. This really helped her so much It’s really made a tangible difference in my pets’ lives and I just think that’s really cool. A lot of people who have pets with issues it makes the biggest difference getting something that works. I’m excited for people who have pissed-off stomach cats, that digestive one is totally a favorite at this house.
Hooray for no more poop puddles!
AP: I love that word, poop puddles. [Laughs] For me, I was raised with pure-bred dachshunds; it’s a very Polish dog. Nothing against responsible breeders, but going to a shelter, going to Austin Pets Alive! for the first time while I was there and seeing what these animals go through — they were treated very well there, but the different circumstances that they came from and learning about Neon’s back story, it just made me feel like I had a responsibility to give her the best life possible. Because honestly, during the pandemic, it was such a hard time for so many people, but having a pet and someone to take care of — not that the pandemic is over, but we’re definitely in a very different place. I want to continue to be able to do that. This joy that she brought us, that comfort and lowering my cortisol levels on those really grim days, I want to be able to give her that as well and that’s something that I want to keep doing. So I started a brand for her!
Last question! What are your pets dressing as for Halloween?
JVN: We kind of just do bowties, my cats are really not game with costumes. They’d rather not, so we just do chic little bowties and we try to do a picture.
AP: We repurpose a spider suit and Ariel from the Little Mermaid, and we have a selection of tutus that we mix and match because I’m in a New York City apartment and I don’t have a wardrobe closet for her yet. But that said, Neon loves costumes because she loves the attention she gets when she’s wearing them. So we’re very excited for Halloween in this house.
RR: And for us, it’s up to the cat on that day what he’s going to wear because he’s not into of all of that…but he has a variety of things to choose from for sure.
Well, we look forward to seeing more, hopefully on @jvntoni! [Editor’s note: This conversation took place in early September and the duo have since shared the above post.]
JVN: Are you like, literally clairvoyant? Major!
Antoni: I know, I just got a little chill there!