Often, the key to success for a small business is to identify a niche and fill it.
But be advised: if the niche you have in mind involves chewy, tasty, healthy treats for people on the go, someone’s already spotted it.
People’s Choice Beef Jerky, a fourth-generation family business in Los Angeles, switched in the 1990s from purveyor of meats and sausages to an artisanal snack brand. Today, the company turns 20,000 pounds of beef each week into the cowboy campfire snack, with flavors ranging from Classic to Sriracha and Carne Seca.
The present, and future of beef jerky making in Los Angeles: third generation owner Mark Bianchetti (right), and his son Brian. Photo by Ian Wagreich
“If you distribute stuff, anybody can get that anywhere,” said owner and president Mark Bianchetti. “But if you make certain products with your label, your branding, your flavor profiles, and people want that, then they have to come to you. You can’t be all things to all people. You kind of have to pick a direction.”
People’s Choice is a big hit on the west coast and in Hawaii, and the company is adding markets, notably Canada and New York. It employs a full-time staff of 18 in the same East Pico Boulevard building where Bianchetti’s grandfather, John Bianchetti, established Peoples Sausage Company in 1940. (The company had existed as a local market at a nearby location since 1929.)
About 18 full time staff run a full cycle of beef jerky-making daily. Once meats are thin sliced, workers spice and prepare cuts on drying racks. Photo by Ian Wagreich
Keeping the brand and the product authentic to the family roots is key for owners so no preservatives or artificial additives are added to the beef. Photo by Ian Wagreich
Jerky’s become a popular choice for people who look for lean, high-protein, low-carb foods. Bianchetti’s products also appeal to the modern appetite for gourmet brands.
“We try to get away from being overly processed,” Bianchetti said. “Our product is real beef jerky, without a lot of additives and preservatives. We use almost 100 percent domestic beef, and we pride ourselves on the fact that we’re downtown LA and trying to stay authentic to where we started way back when.”
Thousands of pounds of sliced beef are layer out on drying racks and placed in drying ovens for several hours. Once cooled, beef jerky will stay fresh for months at room temperature. Photo by Ian Wagreich
A worker operates a packaging conveyor that seals bags of beef jerky ready for market. Photo by Ian Wagreich
Once dried, workers cut down larger pieces of beef and ready for packaging. Photo by Ian Wagreich
Small business is hard work. Bianchetti’s been rising at 4:30 a.m. since he joined the family firm after college in 1978. But the strong position that comes from building a trusted brand and lasting relationships is worth the effort.
“I’ve had people come in here and say, ‘I remember your dad from 40-50 years ago,” he said. “That’s what I think is so cool those relationships. I think my son sees that now when people come in and talk to me. That’s the most rewarding thing.”
Brian Bianchetti (left) has brought new energy and digital savvy to a 85-year-old company, and with it a learning curve for both his dad Mark and for himself as he familiarizes himself with the ins and outs of the industry. Photo by Ian Wagreich