Harlem dog groomer takes biz on the road to beat COVID-19 slump


The coronavirus led to some ruff times for dog groomer Brian Taylor.

But Taylor, who calls himself “Dogfather of Harlem,” found a way to reinvent his business amid the pandemic: He’s taken his show on the road, transitioning from his uptown brick-and mortar-shop to a mobile van that wheels around to pamper pups.

The 37-year-old owner of the beloved Harlem Doggie Day Spa at 734 St. Nicholas Ave. — which offers daycare, boarding and walking in addition to grooming services — was initially hit hard by New York City’s shutdown.

A Sierra Leone native, Taylor started his career as a JP Morgan Chase banker, but pivoted 10 years ago to start his pooch parlor. He attracted a coterie of devoted customers in the years since. But as spring, high season for groomers, loomed, COVID-19 catastrophe struck. Office drones were working from home, while frequent fliers were grounded. Their pups, then, didn’t need daycare or boarding.

Annual sales typically hummed to the tune of over $500,000, or upwards of $40,000 a month, but the health crisis forced operations to halt.

“We went down to $10,000 [in sales] for March,” said Taylor, who closed his doors to some 4,000 active pet parents. He was also forced to lay off his entire staff of 12, including many longtimers.

A lifelong dog lover, Taylor was also concerned for the health of his charges.

“If dogs don’t get their grooming, it could lead to bad health conditions. Their coats can get matted.” At the bleakest moments, Taylor contemplated shuttering altogether. “I thought about throwing in the towel,” he admitted.

But after Paycheck Protection Program money came through, plus $25,700 and counting from a GoFundMe campaign, Taylor decided he would ride out this tough patch — literally.

Tough customer Jade is satisfied after her in-van grooming by harlem doggie day spa.
Tough customer Jade is satisfied after her in-van grooming.J.C. Rice

He outfitted a van with everything to groom on the go and told his local customers he could come to them. In normal times, he personally grooms 250 dogs each month.

Then he planned a six-stop cross-country road trip to support dogs in need across the US. Pet parents who lost their jobs, for example, can still provide for their four-legged friends.

His “Pandemic Pup Relief Tour,” which is performing pro bono grooming from Manhattan to Los Angeles, is powered by a team of all-black volunteer staffers from the Black Groomers Association.

“I needed to help as many people as I can,” said Taylor, speaking from the Wilmington, NC, leg, who treated some 100 dogs there along with the help of a dozen groomers.

Oddly, leaving the city turned out to be instrumental in gaining traction for both the van and his shop.

Taylor, who’s gained a steady following on social media with some 3,000 Instagram followers for himself and almost 10,000 for Harlem Doggie Day Spa, plans to reopen his storefront when he returns from the tour — and adding free grooming for those in need once a month.

Jade's pet parent, Latoya Westbrooks, looks on as Taylor grooms her.
Taylor hands a groomed Jade back to Westbrooks. J.C. Rice

“I thought I was going to lose the business,” he said. “But we opened during the recession [in 2010]. So I thought if we survived that, we could survive this.”

A customer — the longtime owner of a King Charles dog named Carey — told him, “If something happens to me, I want you to take care of Carey.”

It was a clarion call to carry on, and the origin of his nickname: the dogfather.

“That made me realize how important I am to their lives,” Taylor said. “I’m more than a guy who loves dogs. I want to give back.”

When Taylor returns from his Pandemic Pup Relief Tour, he will reopen his brick-and-mortar storefront in Harlem (but still use the van to be able to go directly to customers).
When Taylor returns from his Pandemic Pup Relief Tour, he will reopen his brick-and-mortar storefront (left) in Harlem — but still use the van to be able to go directly to customers.J.C. Rice

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