By Chelsea Rose Moore
Ultra-premium artisan beef jerky in Loudoun
Richard Plebuch’s love for food began in front of a TV. As a teenager, he watched Iron Chef Japan, and although he had no idea what was being said, he recognized the ingredients and began copying the recipes. The show taught him to become a proficient cook, and his favorite dishes are still influenced by his Iron Chef Japan days: sushi, noodle dishes, and pho served with summer rolls.
Today, as the owner of Genius Jerky, Plebuch makes ultra-premium artisan beef jerky. His two flavors – Honey Habanero and South Korean BBQ – nod to his culinary beginnings. His jerky is sold at farmer’s markets, his online shop, and local events, and his company is developing a following of dedicated jerky lovers.
His love for cooking is what led him to jerky. In 2009, his then fiancé, now wife Deanna was in search of a high-protein, low fat, and low-sodium snack, so Richard began tinkering in the kitchen. He wanted to create a healthy beef jerky without nitrates, hormones or preservatives – and, of course, it had to be tasty. The result was a fajita flavor he called Chipotle Lime. He brought a bag on a vacation with his wife, and the two of them quickly devoured the 1 ½ pound bag.
He continued making jerky for the two of them. When coworkers discovered his jerky, they “started going crazy and wanting to place orders.” Plebuch knew he had struck gold. He started to use his coworkers as testers for new flavors that quickly gained a following.
“I love that [jerky] is one of those foods you can grab and go anywhere,” he said, “Genius Jerky is a high protein, healthy, and flavorful snack. You can take it anywhere. Who doesn’t want to eat a steak wherever you go?”
He is committed to making a high-quality product with high quality ingredients. His beef is grass fed and finished and pasture raised, sweetened only with honey, and lacks the nitrates and chemical preservatives found in most jerky. His commitment to excellence landed him a recent nomination for the 2018 Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce Small Business Award.
His jerky began appearing in breweries, wineries, local stores, and in an organic specialty grocery store in Rockville, Maryland, but was slow moving in the organic specialty store. He began polling customers at the grocery store, and learned the majority of its shoppers did not eat meat. He decided to take a step back, and rework his business model.
“We decided the one thing we skipped was connecting with the customer locally, and establishing that connection and telling people about our product,” he said, commenting on his decision to become a vendor at local farmers markets. “‘This is our product, this is why we offer it.’ We’ve started to get a lot of regulars. We are getting mentioned in social media posts. We are starting to make that connection with people and that’s a good thing.”
He is a regular vendor at the One Loudoun and Brambleton Farmer’s Markets, and has been exploring other markets, including the Clarke County Farmer’s Market.
To him, shopping small and supporting artisan businesses is not just a trend; it is an awakening. People are educating themselves about where their food comes from, and making informed decisions about the food they buy. “[People] want to have a connection with the food,” he said. Mass-produced, factory farmed food constructs a heavy veil, cutting the consumer off from the story behind the food. But local food is transparent, and builds a deep trust between the farmer and the consumer.
“I have people every weekend who hit me with a bunch of questions about our products [at the farmer’s market],” he said, “So far, I have been able to answer every single one. They aren’t going to be able to go to a big store or company and get that. [People] are really starting to understand what goes into their food. That might fuel them to [continue] eating local, to know where their food comes from, and to know if it’s organic or if it’s GMO.”
Genius Jerky’s colorful and friendly packaging is designed to catch the attention of folks interested in healthy eating. “We designed it to be very family friendly,” he said.
His long-term plan is to roll out additional flavors of jerky, and develop a line of other products, including salsa, spices, and drinks. Catch him at a local market, grab a sample of his jerky, and take home a few bags! We promise you’ll be back for more. ML
Genius Jerky products can be found at farmer’s markets throughout the region, and online at www.GeniusJerky.com. Find him on Facebook and Instagram @geniusjerky.