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A dog found his purpose at an East Austin coffee shop. Now the community mourns his death.

Kelsey Bradshaw
Austin 360

On any given day, Flitch Coffee customers could find Jake the dog — part Labrador, part Plott hound, moseying around his office, the coffee shop. 

His duties were essential: greet the customers and get belly rubs. Of course, Jake made his own schedule and wasn't under pressure from his owners, Flitch proprietor Erica Foster and her husband Andrew Danziger, to perform. It was just what he loved.

On days that he'd go to Flitch, which is on Tillery Street in East Austin, he'd wait patiently by the door to leave in the morning, Foster said. Once they arrived at Flitch, Jake would clock in by first visiting taco truck Pueblo Viejo, a somewhat recent addition to the Tillery Street lot, where employees would throw tortillas out the back for him.

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He would then patrol the outdoor seating area to see if anything needed to be cleaned up, which just means he was making sure no one left any treats behind. After doing his rounds, he'd end up on the deck in front of the 1952 silver Spartan trailer out of which Flitch operates. That's likely where customers first saw Jake, a black and brown dog whose face had grown white. 

"Dogs need purpose in their life, and Flitch was his purpose," Foster said.

Jake was a bona fide member of the Flitch team, as both a mascot and official greeter. But he will no longer be around to greet his customers or work his shifts. He died last month just before Halloween. He was about 13 years old, Foster said. 

A shrine for Jake, the shop dog at Flitch Coffee in East Austin, collects small tokens and dog treats on Nov. 5. Jake, who was the owner’s dog, died in October. The shop has received an outpouring of love, support and appreciation for Jake, who is on the shop’s merchandise and always greeted customers while they were ordering.

The story of a dog 

Jake was part of the Flitch story from the very beginning.

Danziger owned woodworking shop Hatch Workshop and met a couple during the East Austin Studio Tour in 2013. The couple owned a dog named Jake. They were moving to South Korea because the husband was in the U.S. Air Force. 

They thought Jake would make for a good shop dog and asked if Danzinger would take him in. Danziger took it as a sign to put down roots in Austin and brought Jake home in 2013 when the dog was about 4 years old.

Only two months later, Danziger (and Jake) met Foster. 

Foster went to a reading that was being hosted at Danziger's house, though Danziger wasn't there at the time.

As the reading ended, Foster was leaving right as Danziger was arriving back home. He'd had Jake long enough to know the dog liked carrots and had gotten into the habit of carrying a bag with him. As the two passed each other, Danziger gave Jake a carrot. He then asked Foster if she wanted one, too.

Foster said yes.

The pair got married in October 2016. Jake was the ring bearer. 

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In April 2015, Foster and Danziger officially opened Flitch after a successful Kickstarter campaign, which included a video starring Jake. Danziger's wood shop was next door to the coffee shop, and Jake would end up going to work with the pair out of convenience.

"He was always like that. He was kind of up for whatever. Andrew and I, when we first started dating, we lived in a trailer, in an attic, we traveled a lot. We just always threw Jake in the back of the truck and went somewhere, and he was always ready and willing to do anything," Foster said. 

From then on, the smiley dog was around to welcome kids, other dogs and anyone looking for a caffeine fix. 

"He just became really foundational for the business. Literally, I wouldn't even be there some days, and he would be there, and we'd go and pick him up from work," Foster said. 

Flitch Coffee owner Erica Foster said her dog Jake became depressed when the shop closed during the early pandemic. With Flitch reopening late last year, "he regained his purpose again," Foster said.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Flitch closed on March 20, 2020, and didn't open again until Aug. 1 of that year. During that time, Jake "spiraled" into a depression, because he didn't get to be at work, Foster said. It was also during that time that Jake was diagnosed with cancer. Foster and Danziger were told in June 2020 that Jake had about three to four months to live.

"With Flitch reopening in August, he regained his purpose again," Foster said. "His spirit brightened and he just came back to life. ... His energy increased. The taco truck arrived and that added some boost of morale for him."

It was incredible to be hit with such bad news, and then see Jake still find a way to thrive, she said.

Jake's impact

In the days after Flitch announced Jake's death online, the coffee shop received hundreds of messages and comments. Some were from regulars whom Foster and Danziger had developed friendships with, and others were from strangers who had their own relationships with Jake. 

"That happened on its own, and it's just so special that he created such a positive connection with so many people," Foster said. 

Jake's birthday parties were another testament to his popularity. Starting on his fifth birthday, Foster and Danziger would invite friends and family over and grill a steak for Jake. The party would then stand in a circle around Jake, each with a piece of the cut-up steak, and everyone would say something nice about the dog before giving him a bite.

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"I don't know if we've missed a year since, and every year has been bigger than the year before," Foster said. "One year, we invited a few customers who we'd grown a connection to."

People would bring him full bones during Christmastime. His stocking, hung up in a line with those belonging to the Flitch staff during the holidays, was always full.

All of Flitch's employees understood that giving Jake a treat at some point during their shift was part of the gig, Foster said. 

He was deemed "Jake the coffee dog" after a customer once used the term as a hashtag in a social media post. Flitch ran with the moniker, adding it to his collar, using it on their social media accounts and putting Jake's image onto Flitch merchandise. 

Jake the dog was instrumental in the meeting of his owners, Erica Foster and Andrew Danziger.

Moving ahead without Jake

On a crisp morning at Flitch on Nov. 5, a little over a week after Jake died, you could hear a man typing and another rubbing his hands together to stay warm. Every now and then, a car door would shut and a person would walk up to the ordering window. A wooden door on the trailer that leads inside creaked as employees walked in and out. 

But you couldn't hear the soft pad of paws on gravel.

At the right side of the deck, in a spot where Jake liked to sit, the Flitch staff set up an altar on a small wooden table. It was covered in marigolds, a painting of Jake, a dog statue, a Jake ornament, candles, a pumpkin, dog treats, rocks and a drawing of Jake licking his lips. The sun caused a glare on the painting.

An employee carried cartons of milk up and down a set of stairs behind Jake's altar. It was almost like he was there. 

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"It's been hard to ... I don't know ... part of what's hard is kind of ongoing," Foster said, her voice cracking into tears. "It's been really incredible to see people reaching out and giving their condolences for his passing. At the same time, we understand Jake isn't just our dog and wasn't just our dog. He was really special to so many people."

Foster said that Jake guided Flitch to where it is now: "He helped cultivate that community and that connection people really see and feel when they're there."

Jake's death is the end of an era at Flitch, but also the start of something new. 

"Almost like his job here is done," Foster said. "He served his purpose to the fullest. He really got us to where we are now."