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From Stray to Star: Popeye the Foodie

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When Ivy Diep spotted a stray dog near her Los Angeles home in January of 2014, she had no idea she’d just found a future Instagram star. Despite his humble beginnings, Popeye now spends his days sitting in front of delicious food at dog-friendly patios all around Southern California’s largest city.

Only seven pounds when Diep found him, she says she approached him, and to her surprise, he let her pick him up. She brought him home and called the Humane Society to see if the organization could take him in, but he was outside of the society’s area. Not wanting to send the dog to a shelter, she enlisted the help of her sister to try to find Popeye a home. It proved to be another dead end, but wound up being a gift.

“In the process of trying to find a new owner, we fell in love,” says Diep.

Life with Popeye

Diep and her husband named the stray dog Popeye because he seemed to respond to it more than other names, she said. A little bashful in the beginning, Popeye now seems right at home.

“When we first had him, he was timid around food and snacks. He also didn’t really play with toys; he only played with our sweater sleeves,” Diep says. “He’s now more comfortable with snacks and is more playful with toys.”

He’s mostly sweet around other pups, but takes a lot of time to warm up to them, says Diep. “He likes to bark at new dogs, and sometimes bark at people. However, once they give him a little treat, he becomes their best friend.”

One thing that hasn’t changed? Popeye’s love of visiting restaurants.

Popeye with Mexican food

“From the very beginning, we learned that he loved to go out with me and my husband. He didn’t like to stay home and would beg to go out when he saw us dress. So we started to take him out to meals with us and realized how calm he was around food,” says Diep.

Diep and her husband, Nickson Ngo, enjoyed photographing their food and started including Popeye in their photos. His Instagram page was started in August of 2015 and he now has more than 221K followers.

“I think food and dogs are already pretty popular on Instagram, so I think the combo of food and dog is a bit special,” she says. “Also, I try to keep his posts a bit more interesting by including different clothing or accessories.”

Popeye will wear a tiny Mexican hat at a taco shop or a dog suit in front of a wedding ceremony site (no food in that photo). Sometimes he’ll wear holiday-themed clothing. Or a bandana with a donut print at, you guessed it, a donut shop.

LA’s Cutest Food Celebrity

Although beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, many would agree that Popeye is one cute dog. He seems to smile in most of his photos. One ear flops up while the other flops down—Diep says they’re always like that. Sometimes his tongue sticks out, making him particularly photogenic.

Strangers even take note of Popeye’s cute looks and his friendly demeanor. His feed sometimes features photos of restaurant employees holding him.

“Most of the people who react to him aren’t even aware of his Instagram account,” she says. “We think people just think he’s adorable and always ask us for his breed.”

Diep can’t answer that question as she isn’t sure what breed Popeye is, although guesses include a Pomeranian/Yorkshire Terrier mix.

As for whether or not Popeye can sample the food he poses with, he’s allowed small bites of dog-safe food at the restaurants, but Diep and her husband try not to give him too much. His favorite? Chicken nuggets, especially ones from McDonald’s, but Diep limits how many nuggets he can have.

Popeye with sushi

Diep and her husband head to restaurants three to four times per week. Occasionally she’s invited to media events, but most of the time, it’s restaurants she and her husband have picked out. They don’t share any specific favorites and they don’t have preferences in terms of cuisine. Their only requirement is that the restaurant has a pet-friendly patio.

LA’s year-round mild weather makes it easy for her, her husband and Popeye to hit the town and aesthetically arrange plates to get that perfect shot. Sometimes that means a meatball skewered on a fork in sharp focus and Popeye in the background while another features Popeye front and center on a wooden stool looking at a desserts and coffee from FrankieLucy Bakeshop on Sunset Blvd.

So, what does the future hold for Popeye? Diep says they’re considering starting a pet-focused blog. But for now, you can continue to expect to see photos Popeye in front of scrumptious looking plates at restaurants all over LA.

Images: courtesy Ivy Diep


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Teresa K. Traverse is a Phoenix-based writer, editor, traveler and dog mom to Chihuahuas Autumn and Rocket.