Friday, September 14, 2012

Herky Jerky: The Brothers Turri Talk (Jalk?) Jerky

Scrounging around for a blog topic du jour, I was about to click on an article about it being a good time to be a dead pet. And then I saw this irresistible header:

From Credit Suisse to Jerky: One Man's Dried Beef Odyssey

Well, since I prefer live pets to dead pets – and cannot abide beef jerky – the choice was simple. Jerky: you’re on!

Ryan Turri used to work for Credit Suisse, and before that for Merrill Lynch (which I got from his abbreviated LinkedIn profile).

“I really wanted to do something that I didn’t know that much about and that was different and challenging,” Turri says, taking a pull on his whiskey, while the Golden Gate Bridge fills the window behind him. “I definitely got that with beef jerky.

God knows I’d have to be pulling on the whiskey to get into the jerky biz, but, with jerky, Turri is arguably doing something closer to the Lord’s work than he was “pushing IPOs to hedge funds,” which was his job at Credit Suisse. Still, beef jerky?

Of course, the only beef jerky I’ve ever had is one bite of a Slim Jim, so I may not be the best judge of jerky worthiness out there. And it sounds like Turri is trying to come up with the anti-Slim Jim: all natural, with none of the Slim Jim-ish preservatives that eliminate a goodly proportion of your taste buds when you take that first (and sometimes only) bite.

Setting up a jerky company  - Turri’s is the still web-site-less Grass Roots Jerky – is not as simple a matter as one might imagine – especially when the person doing the imagining (that would be me) imagines that it would merely entail slicing up an old shoe, soaking the strands in salt water, blowing them dry with a hairdryer, and wrapping them in Glad Wrap.

But if you want something that both tastes good and gets past the USDA, it’s a bit more complex than that.

First, Turri tried to buy out the business of someone who was already producing natural jerky.

“I tried to work with him or buy his business, but he’s a nice, old Italian man who didn’t want to sell. So I said, ‘Screw it. I will figure it out on my own.’ I bought a small industrial smoker and started doing batch after batch.”

Left to his own devices, Turri tried 400-500 different marinades to get the flavor just right. He also had to make sure that the meat he was using wasn’t standard super-market fare chocked full o’ hormones and chemicals (let alone old shoes). That mean grass-fed beef. From New Zealand.

Once Turri perfected his recipe, he started in with the USDA which, he contends, has rules that favor yecchy commercial jerky.

“They basically wanted me to get the jerky to the point where it becomes hard like a potato chip, and that’s just not appealing.”

Personally, potato chip consistency would be preferable to Slim Jim tire-tread consistency, but I doubt that Turri’s aiming for Firestone-style, either.

While he works out the USDA regulations, Turri’s been on the lookout for someone to manufacture his product for him, and, it seems, is near to lining someone up. (The article said that the likely producer is in “Caron City”, which I googled and came up empty on. Carson City, perhaps? Nevada seems like a reasonable enough location for beef jerky production. A city associated – if only in name – with Leslie Caron of Gigi fame, less so.)

Meanwhile, to support his jerky jones:

Turri buys old sports cars, cleans them up, and then flips them. He also spends weekends racing and crashing clunkers.

Crashing clunkers? Seems like a logical next step from pushing IPOs to hedge funds.

There’s also another Turri in the Grass Roots Jerky business  – Ryan’s brother Eric – who’s also a fin-serv renegade, and who for some reason wasn’t mentioned in the Business Week article I saw.

I was able to view Eric’s full LinkedIn profile because, for some goofball reason – errrrr, the magic of networking – I apparently have three entirely disparate connections that also connect to Eric Turri. According to Eric’s detailed profile – which lists him as the Grass Roots co-founder:

    • Grassroots Jerky Inc…is launching a line of all-natural, grass-fed beef jerky products for national distribution via direct and retail channels; product will be marketed towards a different demographic than typical jerky
    • With no food background, spent 6 months creating recipes until deciding on those that suited us in both taste and texture
    • Developed a relationship with a USDA meat processing facility to produce, package and distribute our product
    • Hired a design agency and worked with them to create packaging that fits our parameters in both ergonomics and design
    • Performed many administrative duties required to start a business, including incorporation, obtaining business licenses, setting up bank accounts and researching USDA and other regulatory guidelines.

Perhaps the brothers decided that Ryan would be Mr. Outside, the face of Grass Roots Jerky to the world, while Eric labored behind the scenes getting things done, like fitting “parameters in both ergonomics and design.” Perhaps the article’s writer could only focus on one brother, and flipped a coin.

I sure hope that Ryan wasn’t being a jerk about it, and hogging all the attention.

Anyway, because I am only one degree of separation from Eric Turri – not just once, not twice, but three times – I’m feeling a bit protective of him.

So, Eric Turri, come on down.

And please let me know if you want my address to send me a sample of Grass Roots Jerky. I might not want to try it, but as long as it’s Gluten Free, I wouldn’t mind giving my husband a go at it.

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