Rian Thiele, co-owner of Pet Evolution in Woodbury, had a previous career of eight years in law enforcement, which shaped his approach to business and life. Working as a deputy sheriff in Carver County, and then as a Chanhassen police detective, Thiele says one of the most important things he learned from that time was the importance of community. Along with business partner Mike Osborn, Thiele, 36, has applied that community-building philosophy to his current role—serving Woodbury pets and their humans.
Thiele says opening a pet store selling only high-quality food (free of corn, wheat, soy, animal byproducts and artificial color and flavor) was a long-held dream. Growing up in Hastings with two West Highland White Terriers (“Westies”), who had severe food allergies, was also formative experience.
He recalls that both of his family's dogs suffered from chronic ear infections, itching and watery eyes, one so severely that she had a habit of chewing the skin off her legs. Numerous vet visits and medication didn't help, and one of the dogs had to be euthanized. “Back then, there wasn't much good, quality pet food on the market,” says Thiele, who researched the connection between pet food and allergies. He realized that the grain in many dog foods is a primary culprit—corn, wheat and soy—along with animal byproducts like chicken stomachs, feet or beaks. The largest-selling “grocery store brands” contain too much non-nutritional filler to be considered healthy foods, Thiele says.
Eventually, as researchers learned more about canine allergies and the food-health link, Thiele began feeding his dogs higher-quality food and watched their health improve, with fewer vet visits needed.
A few years ago, Thiele was attending classes in criminal justice leadership at Concordia University. “One of my instructors had a side business providing unique (human) dining experiences,” he says. “We had a meeting, I went to see his business, he helped guide me, and I realized, ‘I can do this.’”
Thiele and Osborn opened their first Pet Evolution store in Woodbury in early 2012, at Valley Creek Road and Woodbury Drive. In 2015, they moved the store to its current location in the Commerce Hill area. They opened their second store in Arden Hills last November. The stores sell three kinds of dog food, all of which is free of corn, wheat, soy, byproducts, artificial sweeteners and artificial colors. Their Signature line is made of non-GMO, humanely sourced meats, wild-caught fish, and hormone- and antibiotic-free ingredients.
The store also offers small-dog play groups and a popular self-serve dog wash. Thiele and Osborn strive to be a community resource. “We want to maintain the small, local, community-based feel, like a neighborhood hardware store,” Thiele says.
Thiele, Osborn and their employees participate in a number of worthy local causes, too. They've held community fundraisers to raise money for muscular dystrophy, the Woodbury Police K9 Fund, Woodbury youth activities, and also supported the annual Coco's Heart Dog Rescue 5K.
Thiele appreciates Woodbury as “a community where everybody works together. Everybody here seems to really encourage small businesses. The more they support us, the more we support them by giving back to the community,” he says.
Donna Stafford, founder and chair of the Woodbury Police K9 Fund, says Thiele and Pet Evolution have lived up to those words, by donating food and developing fundraising activities. “They have been an outstanding community business supporter of the Woodbury Police K9 Fund,” says Stafford. “As a business owner who displayed boxes for donations beginning in 2015 ... Rian decided they could do more. So he developed the idea and program of Photos with Santa, which is now an annual event.”