After their King's County Jerky won a prize at "The Next Big Small Brand Competition," Chris Woehrle and Robert Stout were crowned the darlings of Brooklyn's burgeoning craft food scene. But they weren't prepared to meet the overwhelming demand for their grass-fed, wood-smoked jerky. The New York State Dept. of Agriculture and Markets requires (among other things) that all craft food retailers or wholesalers operate out of sanctioned commercial kitchens: the terrace of Stout's Bed-Stuy apartment—where he and Woehrle had been making the jerky MacGyver-style, using air-conditioning filters and a fan—didn't qualify.
As the vendors of the Greenpoint Food Market learned in June when they were shut down, NYSDAM means business. Determined to stay above board, Stout and Woehrle kept the meat on lockdown while they painstakingly legitimized their operation. After an exhaustive search, the jerky boys found an affordable and regulation-friendly space at 35 Meadow Street in East Williamsburg (which is also the home of Kings County Distillery). The relatively small (>1,000 sq. ft) kitchen—complete with exposed brick and generous natural light—is in an area zoned for manufacturing, a requirement for any meat products intended for wholesale.
While one might semi-legally hawk cupcakes or jam from a rent-a-commercial kitchen, anything involving flesh and flames falls under the federal jurisdiction of the USDA, which imposes stricter processing requirements. Stout and Woehrle have spent the better part of the last four months, along with their startup budget, installing a ventilation/fire suppression system—"by far the most unexpectedly expensive part of the kitchen," according to Woehrle. And then there's the recipe approval by NYSDAM, and the personal visit from the USDA.
For many wannabe craft food entrepreneurs, finances are the biggest obstacle to launching a legitimate business: Friends and family provided most of the initial capital as loans or gifts, but it was up to Chris and Robert to navigate the bureaucratic minefield of state and federal regulations. "The hardest part is knowing what the rules are," said Chris. They relied heavily on a 149-page NY State agricultural document to educate themselves on processing and marketing protocols, and hired a contractor with experience building out commercial kitchens in a warehouse space.
Eager to share the wealth, Robert and Chris intend to launch an incubator program to support aspiring craft food chefs. In exchange for a share in their business, some lucky Brooklyn-based entrepreneurs will moonlight in an acronym-approved kitchen further brightened by the hard-won expertise (and extraordinarily good nature) of Kings County Jerky Co.