DIXON, Ky. - When pro golfer Brett Melton started selling his uncle’s Kentucky Proud beef jerky at a golf course he owns in southern Indiana, he didn’t realize it could lead to the product being sold in more than 24 Sam’s Club stores, including locations in Owensboro and Evansville, Indiana.
The executive in charge of the Sam’s stores just happens to be a member of Melton’s Country Club of Old Vincennes in Indiana. The golf course is one of a few retail locations where you can find D’s Jerky, which is handmade by David Warren near Dixon in rural Webster County.
“He [a Sam’s Club executive] started eating my product and told my nephew, ‘This stuff is delicious! Where did you get it?’” Warren said.
Warren is a hunter who honed his craft by making jerky out of deer meat for 22 years. Eighteen years ago, he switched to beef when his kids brought home some commercial stick jerky that they had bought at school for a snack.
“I thought it had a foul smell,” Warren said. “So I made some beef jerky and started sending it to school with them in Ziploc bags. They shared it with their friends, then they started wanting it.
“Word got around, and when I’d go to my kids’ games, people would come to me and order it. Without advertising, word of mouth is not as speedy as marketing, but it’s worked quite well.”
Warren sources about 500 pounds of 100-percent Choice-cut Angus beef per week from Hampton Meats in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. He expects to more than double that order when a contract with Sam’s Club is signed.
“People tell me, ‘This is real meat; I can taste the steak,’” Warren said.
The company’s website says its product is “spelled like jerky; tastes like steak.”
D’s Jerky is sold mostly in western Kentucky convenience stores in Madisonville, Henderson, and near Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. In July, Warren said, his jerky will be available in Kentucky state parks. He said his beef jerky is expected to debut this fall at the University of Kentucky through Kentucky Proud foodservice producer Aramark.
“I have people young and old alike, male and female, tell me: ‘Finally, not something made in China,’” Warren said. “Kentucky Proud has helped me because people like that it’s a local product. Everybody around here is proud that this is from Webster County. In Madisonville and Henderson, they say, ‘This is from right next door.’”
Warren is hopeful that Kentucky Proud will help him get his product on the shelves at Kroger and, possibly, Walmart.
“I’ve shipped it to Pasadena, California – not sure how those people found out about us,” Warren said, noting he also picked up some online sales from Wisconsin and northern Illinois after meeting some couples from there while vacationing in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
“People who’ve tried it in different places contact me,” Warren said. “I got a call from a man in North Carolina that wants to get it into 1,400 Tractor Supply stores.”
Warren said cast members from the “Duck Dynasty” TV show ordered cases of D’s Jerky after they met during a hunting trip in Dexter, Missouri.
D’s Jerky was formerly sold in the Rural King chain.
Warren recently filled a 40-pound order from the Hilton Nashville Downtown, which served it during a Mother’s Day function as hors d’oeuvres accompanied by a dipping sauce. He said there’s a possibility D’s Jerky could wind up in Hilton hotels throughout the hotel chain’s Southern Division.
A man in Paducah called Warren wanting to get D’s Jerky into Five-Star Food Marts in his area. He complimented Warren for printing a Bible verse, John 3:16, on the back of every package.
“I’ve been blessed, and I’m just trying to give back a little of what He has given me,” Warren said.
Warren said the small facility he built in his side yard to make D’s Jerky just “passed with flying colors” a global food audit necessary in order to sell at Sam’s Club.
“Dr. [Gregg] Rentfrow [associate extension professor in meat science at the University of Kentucky] told me that I picked the hardest product to produce because of all the requirements,” Warren said.
Warren said what sets his D’s Jerky apart from competitors is its tenderness. He said what he does to keep the jerky tender is a secret.
“I condition the meat, which is something a lot of people don’t do,” Warren said. “Beef has a lot of natural oils, so I do something to bring them out, and that’s what makes mine so tender.”
During the week of June 7-13, D’s Jerky is doubling its number of commercial dehydrators/smokers to 60. Each one can dry 3 pounds of beef.
“I have the only dehydrating factory in the U.S.,” Warren boasted.
D’s Jerky has two full-time employees and a teen-ager who works part-time. Once the Sam’s Club contract is signed, Warren plans to hire two more workers, one full time and one part time.
“I’m looking for investors,” he said. “I want to get an automated packaging machine. Right now, all our products are hand-weighed and -packaged.”
D’s Jerky’s three flavors – original, spicy, and pepper – currently are packaged in hot pink camouflage bags to promote breast cancer awareness.
Outside of western Kentucky, you can get D’s Jerky by ordering online at www.dsjerky.com.