My First Encounter
The first time I remember seeing and hearing about jerky, I was probably six years old. With only a three hour drive from Baltimore, my family would frequently visit Ocean City, Maryland during the summer months. My older brother’s interest in boats and fishing persuaded my dad to travel over the Route 50 bridge going into Ocean City. On one of our adventures, just over the bridge, we passed a store that specialized in one thing. Yep that's right, Jerky! All kinds of jerky from beef, buffalo, bison, alligator, to venison, they had it all. My dad purchased it for himself and we all sampled it. To this day I can still taste the horrible salty flavor, and I still have the bad memory burned into my brain. I can even remember thinking how I was never eating jerky again. Lucky for you all, I eventually did.
Skipping ahead a few years... Anybody who knows me will agree that I enjoy watching NASCAR very much. In fact, part of the reason I love the sport so much probably came from my brother and I playing NASCAR '06 in the living room. Well, while we were playing this game, one of our neighbors came over with a bag of beef jerky, the usual one you see in every grocery store and gas station. I immediately had flashbacks of that day in Ocean City where I first encountered the snack. I thought I was going to be sick. I reluctantly tried it, and once again swore that I would never eat the stuff again. To me, it was mind boggling that this company had gotten so big off of a product that I couldn't even eat.
The Final Straw
If you skipped ahead, thanks for joining us. If you're still reading, thank you for indulging me. Now we can talk about the final straw that made me want to change the way jerky was perceived. It all happened one early morning in my sophomore year in high school. On my way to class, I was stopped by a friend who asked me a question that would change my life. "Vince, do you wanna buy some jerky from me?" I can remember stopping in my tracks. Once again all of the memories of my previous experiences with jerky came rushing back. Even though I was very hesitant, there was a feeling inside me that forced me to walk over to him, pull out $2 from my wallet and I said yes...
Once again I found myself with my hand in a jerky bag... I had the same reaction this time that I had many times before. Needless to say, I didn't like this jerky either, but for some reason I couldn't stop thinking about it all day long. I went home that night and told my mom about my experience. We discussed how neither of us liked the jerky that is on the market, but somehow everyone is purchasing it. "Do people really like the way it is? What if we make it better?" I said to my mom.
Research and Development
Well, after some research online, we found a recipe that sounded good. We spent the weekend making this first batch, and boy was it a learning experience. The first run consisted of a piece of eye round sliced by hand, then cut into strips. Once the weekend was over, the meat had been in the marinade for a day and it was ready to be put on the dehydrator. Of course, since every piece was a different thickness, this task also became very tedious. Every piece had to be inspected. Some were over cooked, some needed more time, but once we were finished we had something that we were proud of. It didn't resemble the jerky I had in the past that still haunts me, this was actually quite good! That week I brought 1 pound of jerky separated in smaller zip lock bags to school. Everyone loved it. They told me I had to bring in more, and that they would even purchase it from me! I went home that day and told my mom the great news, you could see the fear in her eyes when I told her we need to make more.
A Household Name
Eventually, through the help of a deli slicer my father gifted me, the task of making the jerky became much easier. Making a few adjustments to the recipe, I landed on a constant blend that remains the same today, Original Teriyaki. It was at this point that VP Jerky was founded and it took off! I went from making a pound of jerky a week to over seven pounds by the time I graduated! Branching out I created my first logo that was displayed on shirts, stickers, and hats. I even hired my first employee!
Why did I need an employee many people ask? Well, by my senior year the company had grown into something I could have never imagined. It literally became a household name. My friends were ordering it for their parents as gifts, some even purchased pounds at a time. One out of every three cars in the parking lot seemed to have a sticker on the rear window. I knew that the VP Jerky was flying too close to the sun and the school would soon shut me down. You see it was very common for me to be in the hallways conducting what seems to be an unsavory transaction, yet it was only beef jerky. Fortunately, the teachers knew what was going on and they weren't concerned, especially since half the time they were the ones purchasing it from me. It was the administration I was worried about. So to ease the amount of transactions I had in the hallways, I enlisted a freshman that would allow me to build my customer base.
Remember when I said it was only a matter of time before I got shut down. Finally my number was called and VP Jerky was shut down... kind of. For a few weeks, my customers were going through withdrawal which led me to knock on the door of the administration office. After a long conversation with the administration, I was able to find a loophole. By simply walking to the end of campus, the transaction became legal in the eyes of the school. Happy to have their favorite product back on the market, larger quantities became more desired thus setting a record for sales.
Eventually though, VP Jerky did come to a halt once I left to go to Roanoke College to pursue my business degree. But my passion for the company did not stop. Today, VP Jerky is alive and well. We are rebuilding on the grounds that helped found the company, a Simple limited amount of high quality ingredients, a passion for making jerky better than any other company around, and the pure joy when I see a smile on my customers faces.
So the next time you're planning a hiking, fishing, hunting trip, looking for a great source of protein after a workout, or just a snack around the house, pick up a package of VP Jerky and experience jerky reimagined.
The Original Logo Featuring Bucky