By Richard Foss, Food & Cuisine Writer
If you have driven past an unassuming office park on the north end of Gaffey Street you might have wondered about the sign for a company called B.U.L.K. Beef Jerky. Some people who drive by assume they sell only dried beef with various seasonings — probably wholesale since they have the word bulk in their name.
That’s logical but wrong, as founder Pete Garbowski is happy to explain. Look carefully at the sign and you’ll notice the dots after each letter that indicate that we’re dealing with an acronym here. Before you read on to the next paragraph where Pete explains it, see if you can guess what those letters stand for.
Give up? Take it away, Pete.
“The name stands for Building Up Lives with Kindness… It was an acronym that came from a guy I used to work with, and it stuck. It does spell bulk, but we actually haven’t had a problem with people thinking they can only buy large amounts. We do offer large sized packages for those who want them, though.”
The company started almost as an accident in 2004, when Pete had a great idea about the then-emerging world of e-commerce.
“We started out with a business plan for selling beef jerky online that I pitched to an established company. They said no, and I just decided that somebody was going to make this happen, so it might as well be me. I went to some guys I knew and said, hey, let’s build it. The first year we sold $6,000 of beef jerky online, and I was excited. It got bigger and bigger, and now that has grown by 2000 percent. We’ve gone from a one man operation to four people full time, plus all the contractors that we work with.
When you stop in at that storefront on Gaffey to grab a bag, you might want to allow some time to decide what you want. They sell more than 50 kinds of jerky from minimally flavored cuts of brisket to teriyaki, honey glazed, barbecue and Habanero chili spiced versions. They also offer jerky made from elk, venison, shark, and more exotic critters like ostrich, kangaroo, snapping turtle, and python.
So, where does one get the meat for these weird varieties? In the case of pythons, it comes not from Southeast Asia where these reptiles originated, but from Alabama. People who had them as pets turned them loose and the snakes found that it was just like home, but without all the predators that eat pythons. They are now pests that grow up to twenty feet long, and the market for their meat is probably what helps to keep their numbers under control. Pete’s company isn’t driving them extinct since he only sells about a thousand pounds a year, but he’s doing his part.
Some of the other varieties like tuna, salmon, and shark might sound odd to most Americans, but they have a long history in Asia. In Tokyo’s izakaya taverns, the Japanese traditionally start a session of beer tastings with a plate of sweet and salty squid jerky, and the Chinese have a long tradition of drying and salting shellfish, crab, and other seafood. Pete doesn’t sell those at this time, but he has his eye on the market.
“In China and Japan they make a lot of seafood-based jerky, and as more people move to a pescetarian diet we have been getting requests for it. We have been talking with some fishermen in Hawaii who have a superior product, and that may be in our future. It all comes down to what the market says…”
Another demographic that Pete has been eyeing are the vegetarians, but so far there has been an insurmountable problem.
“We’ve been sampling vegan jerky, which does exist, but we haven’t found anything that we really like. We’re open to trying it out, but we’d have to find a recipe that is really satisfying.”
BULK’s business is booming, a fact Pete credits to being in touch with both traditional and non-traditional customers.
“Campers and outdoors people love our stuff. It’s light, high in protein and stores for a long time. The other favorite hiking food is chocolate, but that will melt and jerky won’t. We also have an increasing number of people who try it because they’re looking for a healthy snack. When you’re at the market do you buy the bag of chips, the starbursts, or the beef jerky? The jerky wins hands down from a health standpoint. It fits in with the paleo diet, and we’ve had customers write in and say they went from a size 16 to a size 12 by changing their snacking habits. It’s carb free, all natural, free of sugar, and many of our products are gluten free.”
Though internet sales still make up the majority of their business, the storefront in San Pedro has benefits.
“It’s a tasting room, the place we interact with our customers. We build contacts and learn what works. We also treat our customers like family. We know that at ten bucks a bag this isn’t the cheapest product, and if people try a variety and don’t like it we’re ready to deal with them. We’ll take care of you. Everybody that walks out of here has a smile, and we want to keep them as customers for life.”
A commitment to customer satisfaction is a sentiment that every business claims, but Pete seems to have an unusual commitment to actually following through. The jerky company that enshrined kindness in its name also has a sense of determination that is embodied in their logo – the L in B.U.L.K. is a human arm in the shape of a flexing bodybuilder. This isn’t just a ploy to attract fitness enthusiasts, but another symbol of the company’s intent.
“It’s the universal symbol of strength. Our brand started when someone said no to my idea, and I decided, I’ll be strong and do it myself. Those are the values we want to portray to our customers. You can do anything, but you have to be good, be kind, and be strong.”
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Details: (424) 536-3050
Location: 1931 N. Gaffey St., Suite E, San Pedro.