Before animal loving entrepreneur Lisa Senafe lost her two cats prematurely to cancer, she never considered the disease might be connected to her pets’ diet.
“I always bought the highest priced food I could find and assumed it was the best,” said Senafe. “It turns out, the food I was buying was expensive, but was still loaded with filler ingredients like corn, wheat and soy.”
When Lisa and her husband, Giovanni, adopted their rescue dog, Bentley, they carefully researched his food, making sure to avoid grains in favor of all-natural, high quality proteins. But the Senafes still found themselves scanning each bag of kibble in search of the right blend of nutrients for Bentley. They were surprised to find that every pet store they visited, regardless of location or price point, was selling dog food laden with unnecessary fillers and additives.
Determined to change the pet store playing field, the Senafes opened the first Bentley’s Pet Stuff – named after their beloved pooch – in 2006 in their hometown of Arlington Heights, making two solemn promises to customers: never to sell food with corn, wheat or soy in the ingredients, and never to stock food or treats made in China.
“When customers walk into our stores, they know all the pet food and snacks we carry are safe,” said Senafe.
The Senafes are also keen to dispel the notion that dogs should consume only one type of food at a time. Bentley’s Pet Stuff promotes mixing and rotating foods, as well as adding fresh, raw, and rehydrated ingredients to a pet’s diet.
“Humans need to eat a variety of foods to be healthy,” said Senafe. ‘The same goes for animals. The truth is, animals are often sensitive to changes in their diet precisely because they’re fed the same thing every day. There should always be variation.”
Fast forward nine years, and life has changed dramatically for the Senafes. The couple’s fall 2015 appearance on CNBC’s reality show, The Profit, with Marcus Lemonis led to a rapid expansion of the Bentley’s chain from seven stores in Illinois, including Deerfield and Bannockburn, to 86 locations nationwide and an online store.
“Marcus has been an amazing mentor,” said Senafe. “He sees our vision and allows us to pursue it. We’re in touch with him at least a couple of times a week.”
The Senafes have expanded at home, too. The couple adopted son their 4-year old son Sebastian in 2013, followed by son Miles – now 10 months old – in 2017. The boys joined the family’s 13-year old dog, Bentley, and 7-year old cats, Oregano and Spice, to make a busy household of 7.
In addition to growing their successful business, the Senafes are committed to sharing the fruits of their labor with local charities. Last August, Bentley’s donated its 200,000th pound of pet to more than 150 animal shelters across 10 states. A month later, Bentley’s Pet Stuff helped deliver 42,000 pounds of pet food to areas affected by Hurricane Harvey.
“Our biggest focus is children and pets, because neither has a voice,” said Senafe. “Our goal is to be profitable so we can make a wider impact.”
During the holiday season, 10 Illinois Bentley’s locations collected St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital wish list items and donations. “We try to do as much as we can,” said Senafe. “We’ve gone through struggles, and we’re so lucky to have our children. I feel like everyday is a gift.”