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Originally published Saturday, May 31, 2014 at 8:00 PM

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A room with a fire hydrant for building’s office dogs

Seattle’s latest office amenity is a special room for dogs to conduct their business. Also, Little Sheep brings a Mongolian restaurant brand from Pizza Hut’s parent, and Microsoft will put translation software into Skype.

Seattle Times business staff


In a city where households with dogs outnumber those with kids, Seattle’s historic Dexter Horton building is introducing a rare workplace amenity — an indoor dog lounge where workers taking a break from business can bring their dogs to do theirs.

A carpet of artificial grass, complete with a vintage metal fire hydrant, offers pooches a place to go off-leash and relieve themselves. An irrigation system below the gently sloping turf treats liquid waste and flushes it into a drain. Owners are expected to pick up their pet’s poop and dispose of it in the trash bin.

A ventilation system maintains negative pressure in the room, pulling air through a charcoal filter 15 times per hour and keeping any smells from wafting into the hallway.

It all makes the dog-walking areas outside Amazon’s many office buildings look a bit primitive.

The dog lounge is one of several changes since Portland real-estate developer Gerding Edlen bought the 15-story building at Second Avenue and Cherry Street last year for $77 million. The building is about 11 percent vacant.

“We have the only dog-sanitation room in an office building downtown,” said real-estate broker Dan Dahl, of Colliers International, which markets the building to prospective tenants. “We’re trying to offer a package of amenities that’ll appeal to employees.”

Spencer Norris, an employee of a firm in the building, took a break Thursday morning to bring his 1-year-old boxer, Benny, to the dog lounge.

“It works,” Norris said. “You don’t smell anything.”

Some office workers must juggle their schedules with the need to go home and let their dog out — or face a stinky mess indoors.

And the alternative of doggy day care is expensive at $20 to $35 a day, he said.

With the dog lounge in his building, Norris said, he could envision bringing Benny to work for a half day and paying for only a half-day of day care.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you see more (office) buildings follow suit,” he said.

Besides the dog lounge, Gerding Edlen is making available to building tenants a new bike locker room with showers and a rooftop clubhouse. Employees taking their dogs to and from the dog lounge will have to use a freight elevator.

It’s not the first time the 90-year-old building has been pioneering in potties.

In the 1920s, the Dexter Horton’s boosters touted its centralized lavatories as a first in an office building in the West, complete with white-robed attendants, according to an old marketing brochure.

“The men’s wash room can be described best as one large, beautifully-equipped room, such as might be found in the most luxurious metropolitan hotels or clubs, finished with polished Alaska marble and terrazzo floors,” the brochure states.

Women had a lounge at their disposal, and more.

“Besides the regular attendants a nurse is engaged during business hours with the duty of caring for all indisposed women in the building,” according to the brochure. “Service of this nature is unparalleled in any office building in the West.”

Real-estate broker Dahl, who keeps a copy of the old brochure at his desk, is happy to see the Dexter Horton building continue its innovative ways.

“I thought I had seen everything,” he said. “This one is over the top.”

— Sanjay Bhatt:

China chain to open restaurant

In the increasingly globalized business of corporate restaurants, Starbucks, McDonald’s, KFC, and TGI Friday’s have jumped enthusiastically into the China market.

But few restaurant operations have gone the other way.

Now a restaurant chain born deep within China, Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot, is expanding in the U.S. and opening its latest location next month in Seattle’s Chinatown/International District.

Hot-pot restaurants put a bubbling caldron of broth in the middle of the table, and diners can order an array of meats, seafood, vegetables and noodles to drop into the pot and fish out when cooked.

Little Sheep, which originated in China’s Inner Mongolia province, now has several hundred locations across that nation. That’s why it was acquired a couple years ago by Yum Brands for more than half a billion dollars.

Yum, of course, runs Taco Bell, as well as Pizza Hut and KFC — including about 4,000 eateries of the latter two brands in China.

So is Little Sheep now an American company? Not so fast — there’s yet another layer. The entrepreneur opening the Seattle location is from mainland China.

George Jiao immigrated to Vancouver, B.C., and was in real estate before getting involved with Little Sheep.

He now runs Little Sheep’s Pacific Northwest operation, which to date includes three locations in Vancouver and its suburbs, and one in Bellevue near Crossroads Mall.

An associate runs a dozen other locations in Southern California and the Northeast. They have licensed the rights to develop Little Sheep across North America, Jiao says.

After the Seattle restaurant is running smoothly, says Jiao, “we may go to Portland.” Further market research — and more store experience, presumably — will help them decide exactly how far the hot-pot concept can go in the U.S.

Don Blakeney, executive director of the Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area, notes that Little Sheep isn’t the only Chinese restaurant brand putting down roots around here.

Din Tai Fung, the renowned Taiwan-based dumpling chain, now has locations in Bellevue and Seattle.

— Rami Grunbaum:

Microsoft demos Skype Translator

Microsoft will release a beta version of Skype Translator, a real-time conversation translator, sometime this year.

CEO Satya Nadella demonstrated Skype Translator during his appearance this past week at Recode’s Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.

Gurdeep Pall, corporate vice president of Skype and Lync, who participated in the demonstration, wrote in a Microsoft blog post that “the demo showed near real-time audio translation from English to German and vice versa, combining Skype voice and IM technologies with Microsoft Translator, and neural network-based speech recognition.”

Skype Translator will be available first as a Windows 8 beta app before the end of 2014, Pall wrote in the blog post.

Recode, in an article on the technology, noted that “Microsoft will start with a handful of languages and only for the Windows version of Skype, though Microsoft hopes to quickly add more languages as well as support for the many types of computers and mobile devices that Skype customers use.”

(Nadella, by the way, during the appearance, apparently opened up a bit about his family life, talking about how two of his three children have special needs, including a son who is quadriplegic, Recode reporter Ina Fried noted in her liveblog.)

— Janet I. Tu:

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