Suit up: Jerky for gentlemen

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Six Cal Poly graduates came together to create True Gentlemen’s Jerky. “We’re not making a ‘meat-like snack,’ or something you’d sell at a liquor store or gas station,” president and CEO Michael Carvalho said. “We’re trying to elevate the caliber of jerky out there.”

Aryn Sanderson

Fraternity men: classy gentlemen or real jerky? How about both?

Six Cal Poly graduates, four from the since-disbanded chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) and two from Pi Kappa Alpha, banded together post-grad to put a new spin on dehydrated beef. Now, they’re selling real, meaty jerky, without the mechanically separated chicken meat, nitrates and subpar ingredients that they say flood the market.

True Gentlemen’s Jerky — a named based off SAE’s creed — is just that. Jerky for a gentleman.

“Four of the six of us were in SAE, and so it’s sort of a throwback to the fraternity where we all became friends, and the idea that we’re doing something different, something better,” President and CEO Michael Carvalho said. “We’re not making a ‘meat-like snack,’ or something you’d sell at a liquor store or gas station. We’re trying to elevate the caliber of jerky out there.”

The jerky’s French-fry style shred makes it easier to eat and increases its “snackability,” Carvalho explained, “so that you don’t have to eat your jerky like a barbarian.”

The gentlemen include floss in every pack, “almost like a Cracker Jack’s surprise,” Carvalho said.

But the real ingenuity is in their product’s quality, he affirms. True Gentlemen’s Jerky uses a lean eye of round cut meat with no nitrates. It has 26 grams of protein per bag, 50 percent less sodium than its competitors and is 100 percent California-made.

Most importantly, it’s a product coming from a tightly knit group, more family than friends. They reminisce about playing bocce ball on Hathway Avenue; they decided to start selling their product while munching on a batch in the stands of a San Diego Padres baseball game together; they still call Chief Financial Officer Kevin Hix “Party Kev” from his stint as SAE’s social chair.

The Cal Poly alumni formed True Gentlemen’s Jerky approximately 10 years after graduation, but the product was a long time in the making.

Chief Operating Officer Jason Kurpjuweit made jerky with his father. The group of friends survived care package to care package while “living the dream” at Cal Poly. But what started as a college snack, fueling late-night study sessions and active lifestyles, turned into a hobby for Kurpjuweit after graduation, as he began tinkering with his father’s recipes. Soon, the group realized they were onto something big: craft jerky.

“We literally joke about the influence of the ‘Learn By Doing’ philosophy,” Kurpjuweit said. “But that’s what we’re doing here. None of us knew anything much about the jerky industry going into it, but we’re having a lot of fun with it, and it all is coming full circle.”

The group decided to start selling their product a year ago. Soon after that decision, they launched a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter and raised $14,181.

“People loved our story, the graduated gentlemen, and they loved the new take on jerky,” said Brandon Bautista, e-commerce manager. “We were able to develop a business that has become really tangible out of our different backgrounds; I was a biology major. I want Cal Poly students to see us as these Cal Poly grads that were able to create a better option than your typical jerky out there. Having our alma mater support us as we try to push this healthier beef jerky option for consumers and grow our business would be great.”

Their business is poised for growth, Carvalho added. They’re looking to target consumers just like themselves — health-conscious millennials who are willing to spend a little more for a higher quality product.

“Studies show that jerky sales are up 46 percent and that — as stupid as this sounds — snacking is up,” Carvalho said. “These things mean big things for True Gentlemen’s Jerky. We’re looking to become the Boy Scouts’ jerky of the Girl Scout cookies. We want to grow big without sacrificing what makes us special.”

Carvalho, Kurpjuweit, Hix and Bautista are joined by Bay Area business development head Alex Macksoud and onsite business development head Brent LaBounty.

You can order True Gentlemen’s Jerky here.

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