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Thursday, September 30,2010

Father-son team launches local jerky joint

By Mitchell Byars

If you are like most people, you buy your jerky while strolling down the supermarket aisles or at a gas station stop on a road trip. It’s something you see at the checkout stand and buy on a hungry whim to gnaw on, but it’s never something you go out of your way to get. But one store in Boulder is making jerky the focus rather than something to toss in your cart at the last second.

Tom Henson and his son Tim are the owners of T & T Jerky Outlet in the Table Mesa Shopping Center, and to say they carry a wide variety of jerky is a bit of an understatement. The walls are lined with every type of jerky you could ever imagine, as well as a few varieties you probably hadn’t. They carry everything from the basics (beef, turkey and hunter’s sausage) to some more unusual game (venison, buffalo and elk) to the downright exotic (alligator and kangaroo anybody?). They also carry a wide array of flavors, from their best-selling peppercorn to cherry maple and teriyaki, and, of course, the good old original.

While an entire store devoted to jerky may seem like a strange idea, Tim Henson says that there are similar stores everywhere, from Texas to Florida. Henson says that he and his father first got the idea from a jerky store in Michigan where they used to live.

“My dad became really good friends with the owner, and he got excited and wanted to do it himself,” Henson says. “He would take some jerky and help sell it on the side at the airport where he worked.”

When Tom moved to Westminster five years ago to take a new job, he kept the idea of opening his own store in the back of his mind. Several years later, Tim moved to Broomfield to get out of Detroit and be closer to the rest of the family. When he found himself looking for a job, he told his dad that they should give the jerky store a try. “I told him if he financed it, I would run the store,” says Henson, who kept up his end of the bar gain and is the store’s only worker. “We thought it would be a really good investment, because there are a lot of jerky-lovers out there.” After looking through countless locations in the area, they finally settled on Boulder and opened their shop on July 1 of this year. “The price was right, and it seemed like a busier area,” Henson says. “There were pros and cons. Everyone said, ‘Why Boulder?’ We took a gamble. But not everyone here is a vegetarian. Wendy’s and McDonalds haven’t gone out of business, so there are meat-eaters out here. Being close to the college also helped. It’s brain food, and what college student doesn’t like jerky?”

While the store sells prepackaged jerky, it also has barrels full of jerky from which customers are encouraged to fill up a bag with whatever flavors and varieties they want and pay by weight, sort of like a jerky-lover’s candy store. The barrel idea came from that first jerky store owner in Michigan, who gave them lots of advice on opening up their shop. The Hensons also use the same supplier, which is based in Michigan.

“People love to be able to mix and match,” Henson says. “With packaged stuff you are stuck with one flavor. I’ve had people come in here and get some of everything, and it didn’t break the bank.

“It’s just cheaper to buy than prepackaged jerky. The more I buy, the cheaper it is for me, so I can sell it cheaper.”

Of course, meat isn’t the only thing T & T Jerky sells. They also sell deep-fried peanuts, as well as something that sounds like it was created just for Boulder: vegetarian jerky, made from pressed and flavored soy.

“It is still Boulder,” Henson says. “I think every- one knows at least one vegetarian. I just started carrying it, but I’ve gotten good reviews from some vegetarians.”

Henson added that jerky fits right in with the Boulder lifestyle. Because most of the fat is stripped from the meat before it is dried, jerky is low in fat but high in protein. It also has a long shelf life, doesn’t need to be refrigerated and is easy to carry, which makes it the perfect snack for bike rides or hiking trips through the Boulder wilderness. “It’s the healthiest thing for the meat-eaters out there,” Henson says. “There are a lot of jerky lovers out there because it is good for just about anything. “Boulder was a bold choice for us. But we definitely haven’t lost money, and we’ve had a lot of repeat customers, and word of mouth is getting around.”

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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