Ryan and Kevin Muccular, the husband and wife duo that own and operate That’s My Dog, a gourmet hot dog shop in Katy, TX, are guided by a simple philosophy: show love to people — all people. “You’re Black, you’re white, you’re big, you’re small; your sexual orientation, your belief system, your political preference — what’s beautiful is that none of it matters when you walk through our doors,” Kevin Muccular tells Thrive Global. “What matters is, ‘How are you doing today? Would you like cheese and onions? Spicy or mild?’” 

Though Black-owned businesses are disproportionately affected by the pandemic, the Mucculars are determined not to let that hold them back: “We’re not coming from the rear because we’re a Black-owned business,” Kevin says. In fact, in the months since COVID first hit the United States, their business has grown. “A lot of other restaurants shut down around us, but we were still open, we were still serving. We got a chance to meet more of our community. We got a chance to love on them, and people are addicted to it. People are addicted to love,” he says. 

Both through their own personal determination and external support, That’s My Dog is staying in the success lane: The restaurant is one of 200 establishments who will benefit from Discover’s #EatItForward campaign, which called for people across the country to nominate their favorite Black-owned restaurants via social media for a chance for the restaurant to receive $25,000. In total, Discover is giving $5 million to Black-owned restaurants. “It’s extremely motivating to be able to not only give the award and help the restaurant owner, but also to see how they’re giving back to their community,” says Julie Loeger, Discover Executive Vice President and President of U.S. Cards. [Link to Youtube video]. “It’s the whole concept of paying it forward. We help and then they help. It’s just fantastic.” 

Here, Ryan and Kevin Muccular talk with Thrive Global about how they’re paying it forward, giving back to their employees, and spreading positivity. 

Thrive Global: Congratulations on being a winner of Discover’s Eat it Forward award! Do you have plans for how you’re going to spend the money? 

Kevin Muccular: The first thing we do is pay it forward. We’re going to take 10% and bless five young entrepreneurs with a $500 business scholarship. When you get a blessing, be a blessing, right? Second, I want to see That’s My Dog expand because business is pushing for it. We need 

a food truck. COVID brought people from all around Houston — folks that we had never seen before — to That’s My Dog. One woman told us she drove from Dallas to Katy — that’s a four-hour drive! It showed us that we have people who don’t live so close to us who love our

food — why not get mobile and take it to them? We can take it to their community and we can provide more jobs within our community by expanding our business. Our extension, our arms, our branch, our umbrella, will get a little bit wider as a result of the $25,000. And we’re extremely grateful because it’s what’s needed. 

TG: The restaurant industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, but you’ve been able to keep your spot open and thriving. What has allowed you to do that? 

Ryan Muccular: There have been so many strategic changes. We went to curbside service, which had its challenges because we’re in a strip center — you can’t take up all of the parking spaces that don’t belong to you. We went to online ordering. We contacted our team and said, “Hey, we need to get online ordering up, and we need this to be effective and efficient. And more importantly, we need to be immediate.” We were open to doing deliveries that we didn’t do before — anything we can do to keep our staff going. 

We’ve had to be flexible. We’ve seen during COVID that the government has the ability to say, “You can open your restaurant for indoor service at 25% capacity,” one minute. And then the next, it’s 50% — and then, “nope, everything’s going back to 25%.” It became inconsistent, and one thing I know about business is that consistency is key. So we decided to become a to-go-only service. It helps the staff have stability, and it means we can feed as many people as our hearts desire — because we get them in and out. It gave our guests the same consistency that they’re used to: They know for the five minutes that they’re here, they’re going to get the greatest smile, the food is going to be hot, it’s going to be fresh, and then we’ll see you on the next go round. 

TG: How important has it been to prioritize the financial well-being of your employees? 

KM: You’re in business to make a profit. That’s the goal of the business, bottom line. And some weeks where you have to pay out more money than you’re going to actually bring in — that brings a lot of stress. You want to make sure that other households are taken care of, you want to help folks keep their jobs and keep their families afloat. So you pay your payroll. And at the end of it, there may or may not be some left for you. 

But what we produce here is love and hope and possibilities. That’s what our brand represents. And so we couldn’t allow for folks, even during the toughest times of their lives, to be down on their luck. We’re going to do whatever it takes to make sure that no one sinks. We’re going to succeed as a community and as a family. We were able to get creative with our business in a lot of ways because our folks were willing to do what was necessary to stay employed. They were just like, “OK, whatever, let’s make it happen. Let’s do it.” 

TG: How did you actively create that atmosphere of love and community? 

KM: I see it very plainly. It’s about being nice. We wake up every day with the intent to go out and show love, and love is as organic as anything. It’ll grow and it’ll spin into what it needs to

become. The more that you’re nice to people, the more that you love on people, the more that you smile and encourage people, it starts to take root in them. That’s what it takes to build community. It takes waking up every day and being positive and believing the best — and so that’s what we do with our employees. We’re genuinely nice to people, and it’s the better way. 

I’ve been telling Ryan this lately: In order to have more of what you want, you have to give in that area, no matter what it is. If you want peace, if you want financial gains, if you want whatever you want — give first. And so I want people to be nice. I want people to show love. So we do that first. We don’t wait. We set the tone. We’re going to set the tone with niceness and respect and good human decency. And it comes back. 

TG: What advice do you have for business owners — and anyone, really — who might be having a hard time staying as resilient and positive as you are during this tough time? 

RM: We remind ourselves that we’ve faced so many challenges before COVID. We started the business from the ground up. We’re the true founders and creators of That’s My Dog; these are all family recipes. We started in California where we have a great deal of support, but then we moved to Texas where absolutely nobody knew our name. We also try to remember that failure’s not an option. We literally attached the words “failure’s not an option” to our logo. We tap into that and make sure we understand that this is just another hurdle that we’re going to lunge over. KM: We know it’s going to be difficult during and after COVID when you’re a business owner. But even with the crying — because sometimes you do worry, that’s just human nature — you keep your eyes fixed on where you’re going. You can’t get too attached to the highs or the lows, because you’re going to go through both of them quite often. If you listen to the chatter coming from the outside, you may want to give up. But we built this thing from the ground, and just like we wouldn’t let one of our babies fail, we’re not going to let our business fail.