By John McNeilly, Contributing Writer
It started out as a mere hobby.
Richard Plebuch, a self-described foodie, began making beef jerky in 2009 for his soon-to-be wife, who was on a quest to eat healthier food. She sought a high-protein snack, but one that was not obscenely high in sodium, as mass-produced jerky tends to be.
Plebuch came up with a chipotle lime-flavored jerky that was an instant hit with family and friends. The rush of requests for the cured beef, along with the emerging national trend to eat healthier, protein-based snacks, made him realize he was on to something that could grow into a business.
And so, Genius Jerky was born.
Plebuch, 27, and his partner, 37-year-old Steve Brewster, both Lovettsville residents, will launch a 45-day Kickstarter campaign next week to fund a major expansion of the business. Their goal is to raise $16,000, through the crowdfunding website, to pay for enhanced packaging and manufacturing. This involves securing permits and a family-owned, USDA-approved manufacturer to produce artisanal batches of jerky using only locally sourced, organic beef.
“It’s important to us that our customers know exactly where our meat comes from, how it was raised, fed and treated,” Plebuch said.
Not an easy prospect, but the team recently found a manufacturer in Nevada that fits the bill.
Since launching his jerky-making hobby several years ago, Plebuch has worked to develop and tweak several flavors—the company already has nine proprietary recipes developed—while also writing a business plan and securing investors to get the company off the ground. Plebuch even reached out to Australian celebrity chef Adrian Richardson to sample the jerky flavors. The chef responded with an enthusiastic thumb’s up.
“He said ‘don’t change a thing,’” Plebuch said with a laugh.
Last year, Genius Jerky officially launched a home-based online business featuring two flavors: South Korean BBQ and Honey Habanero. The response was enthusiastic. Plebuch and Brewster decided it was time to kick it to the next level: Seeking increased production and a wider distributorship of their product.
Their Kickstarter campaign will include several tiers of support, from receiving packages of jerky, to getting Genius Jerky swag, to, believe it or not, securing a permanent level of gratitude from founder Plebuch. He’s auctioning off the right to have a supporter’s name tattooed on his arm along with the Genius Jerky logo.
“It sounds crazy, I know,” Plebuch said, “but my wife is OK with it, and I want to show our customers just how thankful we are for their support and love of our jerky. I think it’ll be fun.”
Plebuch and Brewster have more than profit, and protein, on their minds, though.
Both men suffer from muscle degeneration conditions that require the care of Muscular Dystrophy Association clinics. They have committed to donating a percentage of all Genius Jerky profits to the MDA to help further research and treatment for patients suffering from the debilitating muscular condition. In fact, Plebuch has thought about being a chef since he was in high school. But as the disease progressed, it became difficult to hold a knife for long periods of time.
“This is personal for both of us,” Plebuch said,”so it’s important we use our business to try to give back to others suffering from the same thing.”
Learn more about Genius Jerky and the upcoming Kickstarter campaign on the website, geniusjerky.com. The company also can be followed on Facebook at facebook.com/geniusjerky.