By Laura Drucker
Manny the Frenchie flies through the air, his bright red cape billowing behind him, chasing after delicious strips of hovering bacon and trying to avoid the oversized bones that threaten to break his flight.
We’re talking about cartoon Manny, of course, who soars the skies for bacon treats in his addicting iPhone game “Manny the Flying Frenchie.” The real Manny loves bacon just as much, but unfortunately for him, he can only get it with four paws on the ground.
It isn’t every dog that has his own iPhone app, but Manny isn’t every other dog––the three-year-old French Bulldog is a canine superstar, boasting more than 500,000 Instagram followers, product collaborations with major brands, and an ever- increasing schedule of events, television appearances, and travels. He is the country’s most famous Frenchie, and his story started right here in Chicago.
Manny’s humans, Amber Chavez and Jon Huang of Chicago’s West loop neighborhood, didn’t set out to make him a star. like many other pet parents, they simply wanted to share cute photos of their dog with others. “It was nothing we ever worked toward, it just happened,” explains Chavez, who started Manny’s Instagram page two years ago and never expected it to take off like it did. “It grew slowly at first, but after six or eight months we started getting a ton of followers. Soon it just skyrocketed.”
So what is it about Manny that made him such an instant celebrity? Along with the obvious traits (just look at that adorable smile!) Chavez credits Manny’s good nature and his affinity for having his photo taken. Specifically, it was his love for snoozing in the bathroom sink that got people paying attention. “It came out of nowhere––I just put him up on the counter one time to get him out of the way and he climbed into the sink all on his own. Now he likes it and he’ll pretty much lay in any sink.”
Photos of Manny grinning big while he sits on his humans’ laps, peeking his head out from under the couch, and curled up sleeping in the sink (sometimes wearing shark costumes, sometimes snuggling his favorite monkey toy), get thousands of “likes” and shares and have led big brands to reach out with ideas for product collaboration. The first line of products––T-shirts with Manny’s face on them for American Apparel––showed Chavez and Huang just how much interest there was for their photogenic pooch. A portion of the proceeds from the American Apparel T-shirts were donated to charity, and since then, the couple has been coming up with many more ways to make a difference.
“It was that first partnership that kicked off the idea of starting a product line of some sort to [raise money for] charity,” Chavez says. “With different product launches we donate a portion of the proceeds to the charity and the rest goes to continuing the production of the product.”
It’s a business model that has allowed Chavez and Huang to expand Manny’s brand while raising funds for organizations dear to their hearts. To date, they have used Manny’s fame to raise money for causes like the ASPCA, the Chicago French Bulldog rescue, Best Friends Animal Society, and the American Cancer Society. Funds are raised through products, but also through live events and Manny’s meet-and-greets.
The couple’s commitment to doing good goes beyond donating money. In fact, after working with the Chicago French Bulldog rescue, Chavez and Huang decided to foster Philip and liam, two Frenchie puppies with health issues. “We decided to keep them after about an hour of having them in our presence,” Chavez says with a laugh. “We were always thinking about fostering, but now we know that’s probably not an option since we’re going to keep every single dog.” They do, however, continue to spread awareness about breed-specific rescue options.
Philip and Liam join Manny and his other two siblings––Leila, 8, a Bulldog/Boxer mix, and one-year- old Frank, another French Bulldog. The adorable clan often poses together in pictures, but it’s mostly just Manny who travels to big events with Mom and Dad. Don’t worry about everyone else though, Chavez says. “They get a little jealous of not being able to come with, but they have their own fun, too!”
Being the parent of a famous dog has been a rewarding experience for Chavez, who left her job at the Peninsula Hotel to do full-time Manny- related work. It’s also a bit of a juggling act, as Chavez must balance the responsibilities of the job with her responsibilities as a pet parent. “It is a lot of fun, but I’m just always trying to make sure that Manny is okay and that he’s not stressed out or doesn’t want to be picked up,” she says. “I don’t want to force him to do anything that he that he doesn’t want to do or that I can tell he’s not into.”
Fortunately for everyone, Manny is usually more than happy to pose, get picked up, and give lots of kisses. It’s just a part of his happy-go-lucky personality.
As for the future of the Manny the Frenchie brand, Chavez and Huang are letting it unfold organically. “It’s just such an interesting business because you don’t know where it can take you. We’re just kind of going wherever it leads.”
The couple does have one big dream though: To one day open their own rescue foundation. In the meantime, they are perfectly happy to continue working with animal welfare organizations across the country to help animals in need and spread the Manny joy. It’s clear that America’s favorite Frenchie shows no signs of slowing down.
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