Meet the Maker: Louisville Vegan Jerky
When Stanley Chase III first launched his business, he had no idea that the food truck he owned would eventually become a nationally recognized brand of vegan jerky. Now sold internationally, Louisville Vegan Jerky Company began with a fortuitous discovery and a lot of initiative.
Stanley’s path to being a food entrepreneur has covered a lot of ground; from a restaurant kitchen to food-truck owner, vegan food blogger to vegan jerky producer, and more recently to brick-and-mortar restaurant owner. (It was just announced last month that Morels Cafe, Stanley’s vegan comfort food concept, had plans to open this spring on Baxter Avenue.)
“I needed to learn. I needed to cross-all these other things before getting to where I am now,” Stanley says of his many roles.
Louisville Vegan Jerky really would not have been possible, though, without a snack he often made for himself at home – a vegan lunch wrap. It was an item that ended up being popular with the growing vegan community, and could be packaged and sold in other stores around town, including Heine Brothers’.
Stanley and his partner eventually reached the point they were making roughly 1,000 wraps per week, and realized they had stumbled onto something. “They were selling out the day we dropped them off,” Stanley says. He began thinking about other ways they could offer vegan options, but on a larger scale.
“We had never baked the soy protein [used in the wraps], we had always sauteed it. We thought it would become crunchy when you pulled the moisture out, but it actually became quite chewy,” Stanley said. It became clear that the result was similar to consistency of a traditional jerky.
After making this key discovery, somewhat accidentally, Stanley and his team had their new product. But just because the idea for vegan jerky was there, didn’t mean there weren’t plenty of hurdles to overcome. One of the biggest: there was no precedent for producing vegan jerky.
“Imagine tomorrow you found out you could make money doing something you had never done before, but you can see the opportunity there. Sort of like knowing you could make money building cars, but you’re like ‘where do I start? Where do I even buy tires?’”
Turning to the online beef jerky community, Stanley and his partners were able to gather some of the basics – production logistics, legalities, health concerns and even how to package the jerky in airtight bags – but most of their education was learned on the fly.
“You can only google your way so far before you start running into problems no one wants to talk about, or problems people don’t know the answer to. But you’re the owner, and you have to figure it out because everyone is counting on you,” he explains. “There are so many perspectives to consider – but at the end of the day, you’ve just got to do it.”
But if learning through trial and error is one of the hallmarks of entrepreneurship, Stanley has put in the leg work to avoid some of the pitfalls of small business ownership. From changing the name (Morels Vegan Butcher), to a brand redesign (inspirational Louisvillians replaced ‘famous jerks’ like Yoko Ono), the company went through a lot of pivoting in its early years.
“When you’re the owner of a company, your decisions affect everyone. And if you make a bad decision, it stays with you. I still remember things that I did when I was working the food truck. One time I ordered labels and ended up costing us a lot of money. I was trying to order in bulk, and save money, but there were two misprints on it,” Stanley recalls. “Accountability always falls back on you.”
To that end, Stanley has been very deliberate about fostering a positive and creative work environment at Louisville Vegan Jerky – a place he would want to work for himself. Keeping the line of communication between him and his employees open is a big part of the company’s culture, as is making it a point for the team to leave work issues at work. This is especially important, since almost everyone working at Louisville Vegan Jerky is a friend or family member.
“A lot of my friends work here. And a lot of their friends work here. Everybody will tell you don’t mix business and family or don’t mix business and friendships. On the flip side, that is something that keeps us all together. You go over to the kitchen and the vibe there is just great. You feel it right when you walk in.”
But like any small business, this didn’t happen overnight. One thing he remembers from the early years, “we were hand crimping every bag. I tell the guys in the kitchen that – it’s kind of like my ‘walking up the hill in the snow’ story.”
His advice to those just starting out? “I value my mistakes so much, because I truly do not learn until I do it. I don’t think you can short-cut that part, because then the timing wouldn’t be right. One trait that I’m still trying to learn is patience. That is something I wish I had when I was young – not making impulsive decisions. But then again, being impulsive is what got me here.”
MORE VEGAN GOODNESS:
You can purchase Louisville Vegan Jerky at any of our stores, as well as through their website.
Plus, check out their Jerky of the Month Club, for you or another vegan snack lover: https://lvjco.cratejoy.com/. $1 from every box goes to a different animal sanctuary!
And, Stanley let us in on an insider tip: keep checking back on the website for limited edition Louisville Vegan Jerky flavors. You won’t get a forewarning about the release, and it goes fast!