Hot or Mild?

3/16/2013 7:00 AM
By Teresa McMinn Southeastern Pa. Correspondent

Home-Food Business Draws Spice-Loving Family Together

WRIGHTSVILLE, Pa. — After Tom Greineder lost his manufacturing job months ago, he needed a way to save money.

That meant he’d have to cut spending on unnecessary items such as snacks.

But Greineder, of Wrightsville, York County, Pa., for years has been a beef jerky fan. Since he couldn’t justify buying the expensive treat, he decided to make his own.

Using a $200 food dehydrator, he went to work and created a variety of spicy jerky products.

Eventually, his friends and family, acting as taste-testers, talked him into making beef jerky for a living.

Last summer, Greineder founded The Jerky Connection — a business that makes fresh, artisan-style beef jerky in small batches in a workshop behind his family’s home.

Within months, his products were honored by industry groups including the Scovie Awards —touted as “one of the world’s most competitive gourmet food competitions.”

As a newcomer to the beef-jerky-making world, Greineder said he was humbled to get four Scovie awards.

“I was kind of surprised,” he said, adding that some competitors have been making beef jerky for years.

Today, The Jerky Connection’s business continues to grow. Greineder often works around the clock to meet customer orders placed via the company’s website, from areas as far as California and Connecticut.

He starts each work day with roughly 50 pounds of top round beef which takes several hours to dehydrate and yields 25 pounds of jerky.

“You get about 42 to 45 percent of what you started with,” he said of the finished product.

The company’s prices average roughly $5 for two ounces of jerky.

Greineder said he’s still learning ways to perfect the company’s operations. For instance, The Jerky Connection plans to change its plastic bagging to a sturdier foil-based container, he said.

Additionally, Greineder learned that it’s more economical to hire a third-party company, rather than use his own computer printer, to generate labels for his products.

He hopes the company can gain financial backing and grow, someday moving into a larger, commercial kitchen.

Greineder said his wife, Theresa, and their children, Abbigale, 18, Alicia, 17, and Lancelot, 15, help him run the business, which is certified and licensed through the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

The name of one of the company’s lines of hot and spicy beef jerky is based on a local ghost story.

Other flavors include Chocolate Inferno and Hillbilly Campfire beef jerky.

“He’ll come up with a name before he comes up with the flavor,” Theresa Greineder said of her husband’s method of creating new products.

The company’s website and graphic images are created by Recognize Designs in Louisiana, Tom Greineder said.

Tony Chadwick, a self-described lifelong beef jerky fan based in Littleton, Colorado, handles public relations and marketing for The Jerky Connection. He said the company’s workload has been phenomenal and experienced more than a 50 percent growth per month since it started last summer.

Chadwick, whose public relations roots come from the wine industry, said some of The Jerky Connection’s products are crafted using the hottest peppers in the world.

Crystal Davis, vice president of York County, Pa.-based Buy Local Coalition, said The Jerky Connection offers a new and fun product.

Others agree.

Edward Grassel of Pittsburgh found The Jerky Connection on Twitter. He placed the company’s first online order, was pleased with the products, and today is a repeat customer.

Many new businesses take time to generate that level of success.

Mike Smeltzer, executive director of the Manufacturers’ Association of South Central Pennsylvania, said a home-based business, especially one that makes food such as The Jerky Connection, must follow local zoning laws and work from a clean, insured facility.

Additionally, new business owners should create a plan that includes a marketing and manufacturing proposal, he said.

Smeltzer is working with several counties in Pennsylvania to develop resources for small businesses. The plan is to create a “how-to” list with possibilities of help from research institutions such as Penn State University, he said.

Like Tom Greineder, many folks who lost jobs are looking for a new way to employ themselves, he said.

And that’s not always easy, Theresa Greineder said.

The family works to keep the business going despite their daughter Abbigale’s recovery from a serious car accident that happened in February.

“It’s by the grace of God she’s with us,” said Theresa Greineder, who recently enrolled in Harrisburg Area Community College’s business management program to help her husband run their company.

The Jerky Connection might have started as a way to make money, but it evolved into a project the whole family cares for, she said.

“I think through everything, this has actually brought our family closer,” she said.

It takes a serious desire to run a small family business, she said.

“You have to do what you’ve got to do to get the business up and running,” she said. “Make sure your heart is into it.”

For more information, visit the website at

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