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Conover store owner works magic with meat

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Mary Canrobert

While driving the roads in and around Catawba County, you may have spotted a very colorful pickup truck with our nation’s stars and stripes appearing to float across the hood and sides of the vehicle. The words Patriot Jerky appear in large letters on the sides. The back features more red, white and blue and the first words of the preamble to the US Constitution.

No, you haven’t seen a politician’s vehicle. You’ve seen what I’m torn between calling the meat mobile or the jerky jerky. Mark Minton owns it and uses it to deliver freshly prepared 100% USDA beef jerky to about 30 convenience stores in Catawba County and about 100 in surrounding counties. Remember the Wendy’s ad from the 1980s with the petite, elderly woman asking, “Where’s the beef?” Well, I found it. It’s in this van, at gas stations where it’s sold, and in a fairly new store on 1st Ave South in downtown Conover.

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The shop is where Mark does all the cooking. He used to work his meat magic in a different location in Conover but decided he needed more space, so he moved into the current location last year.

I went to Patriot Jerky to meet Mark and see his operation. He hadn’t returned from a jerky run, so I got to know one of Mark’s most loyal customers, Scott Riley. Scott is the owner of Riley’s Replacement Windows on Section House Road in Hickory.

I watched Scott pull two pouches of jerky from the display wall, open both pouches, slip them between his arm and chest, and start eating. First he plucked a slice of Mark’s new flavor recipe “SWAT” (Fatty Garlic and Black Pepper). He then grabbed a piece of medium spicy “Recon”. I later found out that Recon, with its taste of seasoned steak with a hint of lime, is the top seller, although SWAT is becoming a favorite.

“Good thing,” Scott said between chews. “I can’t come often because I would eat five or six bags.”

Lesley Nadeau worked in the gift shop at the front of the store, where customers can purchase bags of beef jerky and other items, such as t-shirts. Lesley and employee Christina Gerami help out in the gift shop and help Mark make the jerky.

Lesley explained that Mark and his wife Coreana own the business. She said Mark develops his own recipes on site and makes fresh jerky twice a week. Although she worked alongside Mark, Coreana now does the graphic designs for packaging, t-shirts, and more. She also takes care of the accounts.

Mark arrived, Scott continued to eat and we all talked. First, the name, Patriot Jerky. The main reason, Mark explained, was due to the dominant attitude of the United States in 2017. That’s when Mark started thinking seriously about starting a jerky business. “It was when people were so depressed about law enforcement and America in general,” said Mark, who has many friends and family members who have served or are serving in the military or the law enforcement. Mark wanted to do something to rekindle the respect of first responders and veterans. As stated on the company’s website, “At Patriot Jerky, we believe our country should return to its roots, where we show respect, pride and love for our country, for each other. and to the people who give their lives every day. day to protect us.

Mark gave his product and company a patriotic name. He also enlisted the help of his stepfather, Vietnam veteran John York of Conover. Together, the duo crafted dried flavor designations honoring military, law enforcement, and firefighters. I have already mentioned SWAT and Recon. Other flavors include Recruiter (spicy teriyaki), Basic Training (sweet and smoky black pepper), Sniper Fire (spicy flavor that sneaks up on a person), and BackDraft (honey barbecue).

Mark says he was an upholsterer for 27 years. “I started making jerky at home with a little dehydrator that Walmart bought,” he explained. Coreana had bought Mark the little machine for his birthday in 2016. He said he likes to cook but wouldn’t call himself a chef. He’s okay with being known as a self-taught jerky maker. He says he’s self-taught with lots of trial and error. “It’s a nightmare sometimes,” Mark said of creating new flavors. “A lot of rubbish, but then I hit it and I know it will sell.”

He tries flavors on his family and friends, “but usually it comes down to my taste,” Mark said. Looking back, Mark said his truck’s engine failed and “I needed extra money to pay for parts, so I started selling jerky to people at work. They liked it, and it grew from there.

As he spoke, more people entered Patriot Jerky. Just like Scott did earlier, a man pulled a bag out of the wall, opened it, and started eating. I was starting to think Mark should set up a jerky bar.

Combining innate culinary skills with a lifelong desire to start a business, Mark and Coreana opened Patriot Jerky in November 2018 in what Mark called a small, abandoned slaughterhouse in Catawba County. Then they moved to a small building on West 1st Street in Conover. Foot traffic was minimal and the structure wasn’t really big enough for the operation. The Mintons then moved to their current place.

Mark, Lesley and I walked from the gift shop to the heart of the business: a very clean and organized facility with a separate room for the large dehydrator. The beef Mark uses is from the top round. “That’s all we do,” he said. Mark cuts the meat into 2-inch-thick steaks, which he runs through a machine that cuts each steak into thin slices. In small batches, the slices go through a marinade for a 48 hour soak before going into the dehydrator.

“You don’t cook the beef jerky,” Mark said. “You dry it at a low temperature. The machine is never more than 190 degrees.

It takes about five hours to process 120 pounds of meat. Then the long strips of jerky are cut into 2.5 to 3 inch pieces and wrapped.

Now, here is a piece of information that surprised me. Mark said the USDA inspector visits the store every production day because Patriot Jerky is listed as packaged ready-to-eat (RTE) meat and poultry. The inspector goes through everything, including all the paperwork, and there’s a lot of paperwork. “Everything must be recorded and monitored throughout the process, from receipt [the beef] to packaging,” Mark said.

Mark has achieved his goal of owning a business, a successful business. He and Coreana expressed their appreciation in various ways. Patriot Jerky participates in fundraisers for charities, such as Back the Blue, which supports law enforcement, and Eagle Rock Camp, a Conover-based organization that provides therapeutic retreats for veterans and their families. to help them heal the hidden wounds of war. Also, “we send jerky to training camps,” Mark said, “like a case of jerky in Fort Bragg. When we started SWAT, we sent bags of it to law enforcement and we’re offering 10% off to law enforcement, veterans, and firefighters.

Patriot Jerky also sponsors Patriot Scholarships of $1,000 each year. Last year, two high school students, Abigail Albert of Discovery High School in Newton and Katie Foster of Newton-Conover High School, received scholarships for their studies at UNC-Charlotte.

Share story ideas with Mary at marycanrobert@charter.net.

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