Photos by Asia Morris. All food photos courtesy of Jay Diebel.
Kevin Casey, a Philadelphia-born skateboarder, snowboarder, surfer, and now entrepreneur, is the outdoorsman sitting behind that crate of beef jerky bags you've maybe seen at the Bixby Park farmers market on a Tuesday. As the last East Coaster of his high school clique to migrate to Long Beach in 2011, Casey packed his bags and road tripped across the country for the West Coast's unique trifecta of board-able environments and Long Beach's notorious skateboarding scene.
With the surf, snow and cement so close at hand, Chudabeef Jerky Co. was born out of a necessity. A need for high-quality, hearty, healthy, on-the-go nourishment for the most active individual.
Casey said, "I started making beef jerky just as a snack for myself and my friends. As I was making more and more (I was going on sales trips for trade show season, which is during the wintertime, the same time as going snowboarding) I’d share it with a lot of people and everyone was like, ‘This is incredible. Can I buy some off you?'"
He quickly built a reputation for the product. Sharing one bag after another with his closest group of friends created an unexpected high demand for a snack he had started making at home as an experiment.
"When I first started making it, I had no idea how to charge people for jerky. Eventually my friends would share it with their friends. Word started to spread. Next thing I knew I was hearing, ‘Oh so you’re the jerky guy!’" he explained.
"The jerky guy" quickly ran out of funds because he was making so many bags to give away. Casey explained, "In a way it was cool because my friends helped me develop all the recipes, they helped me tweak them so they tasted just right. Finally my dad, who's an entrepreneur said, 'You need to start charging people for this.'"
The name "Chudabeef" emerged from a play-on-words and Casey's original Instagram moniker, @chudabaker.
"I was trying to think of a name to make a stamp out of to put on the bags. My friend was like, 'Why not Chudabeef?' It's catchy, people walk by and they get it. You can go a lot of different ways with it, whether you're making a joke about jerky or something else."
Chudabeef jerky is a far cry from your typical "gas station jerky," known for its impossible-to-chew texture and skyscrape-high sodium content. Chudabeef fans doted on Casey's recipes for producing a product with a softer bite, natural ingredients, a much lower sodium content and a variety of unique flavors. All of Casey's jerky recipes use a gluten-free soy sauce and do not contain the usual culprits used to prolong shelf life. Steroids, growth hormones, MSG, Nitrates and Nitrites are wonderfully absent from the formula. As is written in the Kickstarter campaign, Chudabeef Jerky Co., likes to "keep it real, always."
"Gas stations have a lot of jerky, that’s good, but because they’re made in such large quantities they kinda skimp on the ingredients," Casey said. "They’ll throw in a lot of preservatives because they want to keep it on the shelf for a long time. I was buying my ingredients at the local market, so they’re all real ingredients. I don’t have access to preservatives or anything, so I couldn’t put anything in it to make it last long. Everything I made was fresh, and that’s what they really liked. Fresh, and the flavors were different. No one has a Hawaiian jerky that I know of..."
The Hawaiian BBQ style flavor is created by marinating the meat in fresh pineapple and orange juice. It's a homemade teriyaki sauce created to satisfy those who enjoy a sweeter flavor. The OG Spicy, the company's most popular flavor, is made with Tapatío, crushed red pepper and chili powder. This one starts out with a subtle rumble and ends with a slight kicker. It's not overwhelmingly spicy, but the kicker keeps it interesting. The Original and the Garliyaki are two flavors meant to be tried one after the other. You can taste Chudabeef's humble beginnings in the Original, followed by a more experimental flavor rich in garlic.
Casey explained, "The most devastating thing is to have people come up here and be like, ‘Hey we love your jerky, can we work something out and sell it.’ And I have to say that I can’t make enough for their store to keep them stocked. So that’s always been the biggest road block. That’s where I’m at right now. I can’t keep up with the demand that people want to stock their shelves with. That’s why I need to ramp it up."
With a higher production rate included, Casey decided to launch a Kickstarter, which ends November 20, will cover the expenses of testing out the product's shelf life and compiling an official list of ingredients and nutritional information.
"One thing you can actually do is a shelf life test, you can send it to a lab and they'll actually let something sit for eight, nine, twelve months to figure out how long it'll last... That’s one of the reasons why I’m raising money, because all that backend stuff that you have to do as a company adds up, fast. Especially getting bags printed. Which is one of the biggest things, because I handstamp all my bags. I don’t mind it, but it gets a little tedious sometimes. I want to shift that so I can start working on other aspects of the business. It’s been a side gig for me so I’d like to make it a full time job at some point."
While Casey has been producing about 75 bags a week in a small kitchen in Westminster, he has found a new kitchen which can produce upwards of 600 bags a week—and that's the minimum requirement. The Kickstarter will help Chudabeef exceed its before mentioned jerky-making capacity in a USDA certified family owned kitchen. The Kickstarter will cover the costs of this much higher production rate, so he no longer has to let down interested buyers.
When asked how he would compare Chudabeef Jerky Co. to Long Beach Jerky Co., Casey said, "That’s a hard question. Believe it or not, I’ve actually never met the Long Beach Jerky guys. I’d like to talk to them at some point, but on both of our levels, what it comes down to is marketing and flavors. I know their flavors are completely different from mine, which is good because it separates us. When it comes to clients that want a certain flavor, you know Long Beach Jerky might have a flavor that someone really likes but they may not like mine and vice versa. The biggest thing right now is the flavors, they’re so different."
In other words, what city doesn't have room for more flavors?
While it's common for new companies to hit a number of speed bumps along their way to a brighter future, what used to be Casey's biggest obstacle is worth a few laughs.
"I know it sounds weird," he said, "but when I would make jerky the hardest thing was keeping it away from my dog. I came to realize that zip lock bags don’t block the scent. I would make pounds of jerky and leave it on my bed and leave my door open and my dog would smell it from downstairs… I would come home and there would be a shredded bag and two pounds of jerky gone. That was one of the biggest mistakes I made."
Casey pointed to the expertly designed bags sitting in the farmers market crate. He said, "As long as these bags are sealed, however, you can’t smell anything, but once you rip open the top you can smell it."
If you'd like to sample any of the four flavors Chudabeef Jerky Co. has to offer before deciding to support the Kickstarter campaign, or if you just want to hang out, grab a drink and meet Kevin Casey, The Attic is hosting a Kickstarter party on Monday, November 10 from 6:00PM to 10:00PM. Classic cocktails will be served at The Attic's new outdoor bar and free Chudabeef samples will available for the tasting.
Bags are sold for $7 a pop at Port Long Beach, Chudabeef can also be found at the Bixby Park Farmers Market every Tuesday.
The Attic is located at 3441 E. Broadway.