Justin LeGore has always been an entrepreneur at heart. By the time he was a high school student, LeGore was running his own lawn care business in his hometown of Frederick, Maryland. His decision to major in business management in the Pamplin College of Business fell perfectly in line with his lifelong ambitions – albeit after a false start as an engineering major, where, during one of his first classes, he asked, “when will I be able to start my own business?” and was unsatisfied by the answer.
“When I was told it would be 15 to 20 years before I would be able to realistically start my own engineering firm, I realized I had a mind better suited for business and I made the switch,” LeGore explained.
That ambition has led LeGore to Alexandria, Virginia, where he and his best friend and business partner, Alex Benbassat, are hosting the first Old Town Beer, Wine and Dog Festival on Aug. 17 at the city’s Waterfront Park. The festival will serve locally-sourced beer, wine, and food, and will feature live music. The key characteristic to the event is its dog-centric nature, as it will be held in a dog-friendly area, complete with dog-friendly businesses and dog activities. A local animal rescue, Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, will even bring adoptable dogs to the event in the hopes that the animals find their “forever homes.”
The festival will serve as a prototype, as well as marketing device, for the duo’s business concept, Brewski’s Barkhaus. Stemming from an idea set forth in Benbassat’s undergraduate thesis project, Barkhaus will be a combination dog bar, dog park, and dog shelter. The festival is a creative attempt to gain investors and raise awareness for the venture.
“We knew setting up this event would be a challenge, but we also knew that it would show us if we have what it takes to launch our own business,” LeGore explained. “Setting up this festival has been about ten times the work we thought it would be, though.”
LeGore originally met Benbassat, an architecture student, completely by chance. In 2014, during his second year at Virginia Tech, LeGore was searching for a couple of roommates to share a four-bedroom apartment with. Benbassat and a friend were looking for off-campus housing and answered LeGore’s request. LeGore and Benbassat hit it off. That friendship carried the pair from Blacksburg to Charlotte, North Carolina, and from Charlotte to Alexandria, where they find themselves rooming together once again.
It was during their time in Charlotte when the idea that would become Brewski’s Barkhaus first took shape. Each day after work – LeGore at a local start-up company and Benbassat at an architecture firm – the pair would take Benbassat’s dog to a local dog bar, described as a “dog park that serves alcohol.”
“The dog bar is an idea that has a large demand, but a low supply, especially in the DC metropolitan area” Benbassat explained.
The idea would have to stay just that, however, as LeGore’s work would take him across the country when the company he worked for moved its offices to Washington state. While LeGore was in Washington, learning the ropes of business under “Shark Tank” alum Konrad Billetz, Benbassat was on the move as well, this time to Alexandria in order to complete his five-year architecture degree at the Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center (WAAC). It was during his time at WAAC that he decided to frame his undergraduate thesis around the idea of a dog bar, dog park, and dog shelter, utilizing architectural design to better the relationships between dogs and humans.
“Growing up, my household always had at least three dogs,” Benbassat explained. “I’ve always loved dogs and how they can help us as much as we can help them.”
For LeGore, working for a start-up was beginning to take its toll, as he was living over 2,000 miles away from friends and family. It was at this point that he decided to begin work on a business plan for a dog park and tap house in the Washington, D.C. area, the idea that he and Benbassat thought of while living in Charlotte.
It wasn’t until he called Benbassat to notify him of his impending move back to the East Coast that LeGore learned that he and his friend were working on similar projects. The two then decided to become business partners and make their idea a reality. “I knew that Alex would be dedicated to the project and we would work well together,” LeGore explained.
Utilizing help from the Apex Center for Entrepreneurs, the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, and the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, the duo is hopeful to break ground on the Barkhaus by the fall of 2020. As Benbassat explained, Alexandria is one of the most dog-friendly cities in the country.
“As we’ve gone through this process, we’ve heard from more than one person that, around here, people love their dogs more than they love their kids,” Benbassat said. “I don’t think they are joking.”
As for the Old Town Beer, Wine and Dog Festival, it has created some excitement on various social media channels. “I just want to expose as many people as we can to our idea,” LeGore said about the festival. “Our ultimate goal is to build some buzz and gain investors in order to move forward with our business plan.”
Tickets to the Aug. 17 festival are $10 and can be purchased online through Eventbrite. More information about the festival is available at www.oldtownbeerwineanddog.com.
Written by Jeremy Norman