This week we're shining the spotlight on Celebrate Local family member Katie Levesque, owner of Katie's Beef Jerky in Hilliard, Ohio!
What's the story behind your business, and how did you get started?
Hi, I’m Katie and I am a jerkyholic! I have looooved jerky my whole life! This should give you an idea of how much I love beef jerky: I eat jerky all of the time. I skip meals to eat jerky. I eat my meals and then eat jerky for dessert, even if I'm already stuffed. I hide it from the people I love (Ben & Jerry’s ice cream lovers will relate). I find spicy flavors no one else can eat so I don't have to share. I store it in my car, purse, desk, kitchen, gym bag (did you know that beef jerky is the perfect snack for athletes? High in protein, low in fat and perfectly portable); the list is endless. I've even slept with it under my pillow (I know what you’re thinking, but, it was in a baggie!). My dogs laid beside my head the whole night. I say I'm going to zip up this bag and finish it later, but 5 minutes pass and the jerky is gone and I'm not sure what happened... I buy individual bags planning on snacking on them over the period of a week or two, but I wake up in the morning and start in right away and all I can think is "why didn't I buy more?" I just love it that much! Now I’m making a business out of it.
This is the story of how my passion for beef jerky became a business. Back when I started college in Lima, OH, my favorite snack was beef jerky; however, the jerky I was buying just wasn’t good enough, so I took matters into my own hands and started making my own. I quickly realized that I was good at it…and by the way…others thought so as well! How do I know that? Well, people were putting their money where their mouth is. They were using their hard-earned dollars to buy my delicious, unique, Original beef jerky. I started selling at fundraisers for the honors group on campus which got the word out and the next thing I knew, people were calling me at my job at the help desk to reorder!
This is where things got interesting; I was selling more and more which led to my needing a bigger kitchen. I rented kitchen time after hours at a pizza joint. Business continued to grow with distribution at local bars and other mom & pop stores around town.
I was excited that people were enjoying my creation as much as I was! I became noticed, happily by customers, but also, more seriously, by the USDA! Oh. Oh… I didn’t know all the rules and regulations, which isn’t an excuse, but after all, I was just a college entrepreneur! Well, it turns out making beef jerky in an unofficial, non-beef-jerky-certified-by-the-USDA-kitchen after hours is a big no no. This is a good time for a word of wisdom – research the regulations or consider a copacker before diving into your project and trying to sell it to your entire hometown! Anyway, the USDA stopped my operations. I received some hefty fines and a big enough scare to put the project to rest, for the time being.
With no money left and a good amount of ambition, I embarked on my next adventure. I moved to Columbus so I could start taking engineering classes again at The Ohio State University. I didn’t know it yet, but I was falling in love with manufacturing!
A successful career in engineering was not enough to kill my dream. I wanted to make the best beef jerky on the planet and now I had better tools to make it happen! The passion was so great that in 2014 I founded Katie’s Premium Jerky & Snacks. I set-up my office and production facility in Hilliard, OH, a suburb of Columbus and in just a few short months I started winning several product awards and now Katie’s Premium Jerky which includes beef, bison, venison, elk and pineapple can be purchased at Celebrate Local!
What makes your products unique?
Our products are 100% all natural with no Nitrites, no MSG, and they are also all gluten free.In addition, we make the spiciest flavors in the world and keep the amazing and intense flavor! Everything is hand processed.
What do you like about being part of the Celebrate Local family?
Being a part of Celebrate Local is like having an extended family. When I have questions or need advice, I the team is always incredibly helpful and full of guidance. I love sharing the experience with other Ohio entrepreneurs and artist that take tremendous pride in what they do!
Pick up Katie's Beef Jerky at our Easton store or online!