Long a staple of truck drivers, trappers, and cowboys, beef jerky has gone mainstream, it would appear.
That was the takeaway from the grand opening celebration Saturday of the Beef Jerky Outlet in a Limerick shopping mall, where throngs emptied shelves of all manner of the dried, smoked, and salted meat.
Don't be fooled by the store's name. It belies a serious flavor evolution in this gastronomic niche. There was bison jerky, antelope jerky, king salmon jerky, prime rib jerky, Tennessee moonshine fireball jerky, and more.
There were sauces and rubs and candies and other accouterments, all in celebration of this once survivalist food.
“We really like it here," said repeat customer Dan Russell, who stopped in with his family and has been visiting the store since it began doing business late last year in the Philadelphia Premium Outlets mall.
The store is owned by Ben Nonnemacher and his wife, Ellen. The couple came up with the idea on a trip to West Virginia to visit family. There, they read a newspaper article about a newly opened jerky franchise and thought it might work for them.
They own the Limerick business with Nonnemacher’s sister Jessica Stewart and her husband, Thomas, who also operate a store in Charlotte, N.C.
“It was a fluke,” said Nonnemacher, about coming up with the idea. His wife spotted the news story and said “ 'Ben, you might really like this,' ” he said.
The couple quickly discovered that jerky seems to be having its culinary moment. According to market research firm IRI, jerky sales are smoking. From 2009 to 2015, sales jumped 46 percent to $2.8 billion.
“It definitely is a trend now,” Ellen Nonnemacher said. “For people who are looking for a high-protein, low-calorie snack, [jerky] has 50 calories per serving and a candy bar might have a couple of hundred.”
The Nonnemachers' business is a franchise of Beef Jerky Outlet, a chain of 80-plus stores headquartered in Kodak, Tenn., and founded in 2010 by veterans who emphasize their military backgrounds and ties to law enforcement. The Nonnemachers have strategically placed a barrel near the front door of their store and invite customers to donate jerky packages for military personnel. The store also provides a 10 percent discount to members of the military, law enforcement, and first responders.
The vibe at Beef Jerky Outlet is anything but snooty/foodie, and far more in keeping with populist impulses coursing through the electorate of late. No one was heard to say, Vegans be gone! But meat protein was the central focus.
There were sweatshirts for sale behind the cash register that take a shot at the animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. They were emblazoned with the slogan, “PETA — People eating tasty animals.” Also for sale were pro-carnivore placards, with one reading, “Tree hugging is OK as long as you are climbing up to your deer stand.”
Ben Nonnemacher, 38, is a certified National Rifle Association pistol instructor and volunteers for Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, which provides assistance to disabled veterans. Ellen, also 38, is an AT&T account manager who works in King of Prussia. Ben, who had a career in sales before opening the store, will be running the business full time, with help from his wife.
The couple live in Exeter Township with their 9-year-old daughter, Alexis, who was helping her parents Saturday, and seemed to be in her element as customers coursed through the store and lined up, packages in hand, at the cash register.