If you haven’t noticed, dogs are everywhere in San Francisco. With that, dog grooming is booming. Just ask the owners and operators of Russian Hill Dog Grooming, Leonard and Patricia Montgomery, who say they’ve never been busier.
The Montgomerys opened their first shop on Hyde Street in 1994, which was followed by a Bush Street location in 2008. There are a number of long-standing employees, including Ceferino (“Cefe”), who has been part of the grooming team since the first four-legged customer came through the front door.
Prominent San Franciscans are among the regular clientele, like Senator Dianne Feinstein, who tells the Gazette: “Leonard, Patricia and their wonderful staff at Russian Hill Dog Grooming have taken great care of my two Yorkshire terriers over the years. They have treated my Yorkies as they would their own, and they have come home happy and looking great.”
“Polly has been going to Leonard and Patricia for the last four years,” says Vanessa Getty. “Leonard is a godsend because I have an 85-pound rescue dog who loves to get dirty and hates to get bathed.” Michael Tilson Thomas and Joshua Robison’s mini poodles, Maydela and Izzy, are also regulars, as are the late Charlotte Shultz’s cocker spaniels, Stanford I and Stanford II.
Although they closed their Hyde Street location during the pandemic, I recently caught up with the Montgomerys on Bush Street to talk dog shop.
1 How did you get into the dog grooming business 28 years ago?
Leonard: When we were married, we got a standard poodle, Filbert. We had a groomer who would work six months and then go somewhere else, so we took our dog to a grooming shop. They had rusty kennels and they put Filbert in a kennel that seemed kind of small. My wife went to pick him up in the evening and they were just [then] cutting his hair.
Patricia: I saw a need for [business acumen]. We had both come from entrepreneurial backgrounds. We worked in restaurants and sales. As my brother said, “You guys can do it better; I don’t see why you don’t do it.” And we thought, “Yeah, we could do this better.”
Leonard: There was this space on Hyde Street. … We lived a block from our shop. It suddenly became the neighborhood place for your dogs. So once we opened, all the grooming shops saw how busy we were and started coming in around us.
2 How have your grooming skills evolved?
Leonard: I learned how to do certain techniques from Cefe. He was grooming way before me. When we first opened up the shop, the only experience I had, really, was working with our poodle and grooming him myself. What happened is that I started going to dog shows. We started seeing that people would say, “The haircut doesn’t look like a show dog.” There is a difference between a Welsh terrier and an Airedale terrier. You have to learn those different haircuts. Every weekend I would drive up to Sacramento to learn how to groom show dogs through the National Dog Groomers Association of America and I became certified.
Patricia: It is a special skill. There are not that many dog groomers who are certified.
3 How did your business change during the pandemic?
Leonard: During COVID, everyone got a new puppy. Of course, everything is a doodle: Labradoodle, Bernedoodle, Saint Berdoodle. We have a waitlist right now.
Patricia: It’s a good problem to have!
4 What have you learned about working with dogs?
Patricia: When I think about it, it is that if you meet somebody, don’t tell them what you do [laughter] because, do we want to talk about dogs for three hours when on vacation? Out come the cell phones and the whole thing!
5 What is the best part of the job?
Leonard: Oh, I love the before and after. I really love getting a dog that is matted, with tangled long hair, and then you groom it and make it look pretty fantastic and people are happy. I love to see the smiles on their faces. Happy customers. That is the best part. “Oh, so-and-so brought them in and they really love the haircut. Everybody is talking about it. We want to come back again.” It’s always fun. Every day is different but it’s still the same.