Coming from the Black Hills of South Dakota and fresh out of college, Jim Bach made a pilgrimage to Ventura during the early '70s. He was looking for work.
It wasn't long before he discovered Ventura didn't offer every amenity that his hometown did. "All the beef jerky was real expensive and real bad out here." To satisfy his jerky craving, family members in South Dakota shipped out the real thing to enjoy.
An enterprising thought was born.
He wanted to turn Ventura folk on to quality jerky--all the while turning a profit--"I checked with a fella back in South Dakota who cooked jerky. He wanted $50,000 to come out here for two weeks and show me how to do it," Bach said. "Of course I didn't have the cash."
A jerky fan himself going way back--"we'd sit around eating tons of it"--Bach, having left a job in accounting, wasn't ready to relinquish his entrepreneurial idea for lack of funds.
"I looked around and looked around, trying to find somebody who knew the business," he said. Bach's luck would soon change.
"I got to know this ol' fella named Kit Mungo who was a retired meat man from Ojai, but at the time I didn't know he had once been famous for his beef jerky sold in the area.
"We just got to talkin' one day, and I mentioned my idea of going into business," Bach said, "and he told me about his jerky experiences."
After a little coaxing from Bach and Mungo's wife, the 75-year-old former meat man agreed to enter the jerky business once again--this time as a teacher.
With the hope of going into operation using an antiquated oven he purchased and rebuilt for $100, Bach recruited his brother Rick from the Black Hills in May of '82.
"We found a little place on Front Street down by the wharf to set up shop, so Rick came out long enough to draw up all the plans and build the factory," Bach said.
His brother went back to South Dakota one month later, and "it was just a matter of time for all the approvals from the city and USDA to come through," he said.
The appropriate inspectors' blessings given, Rick Bach uprooted himself from the Black Hills permanently in October, 1982--job resigned, house sold, retirement plan liquidated.
Along with mentor Mungo and Mungo's wife, the Bach brothers opened the Pacific Coast Jerky Factory on Feb. 1, 1983.
"We sold our first jerky the day before my birthday," Jim Bach said. "We made about $230 in total sales that first day."
"For the most part, during the first four years it was myself and Kit's wife handling the jerky and Jim took care of all the books and the invoices," Rick Bach said.
For his part, Mungo offered the business its most important asset--a jerky recipe cloaked in secrecy.
"Kit learned the recipe from a Seminole Indian in Florida about 60 years ago," Rick Bach said. "It's got a lot of history behind it."
Although the brothers will not divulge the secret ingredient they did say as much as Kit Mungo would let them.
"Kit named the secret in the recipe 'kickapoo juice,' " Rick Bach said.
The Pacific Coast Jerky Factory uses the kickapoo juice to season "a cut of beef that's like a sirloin tip," Rick Bach said. "It's trimmed and sliced and marinated, then we put it on racks."
From there the racked marinated beef makes its way into an oven for the drying process.
By the way, elapsed time for marination and drying are also closely held secrets .
"After it's dried and sorted, one last preparation is made before it goes to the customers--and that's a secret too. We don't want our competition to know about it," Rick Bach said, "It sets us apart from the rest."
What can you tell us about the jerky?
"It has no chemicals. No MSG. No nitrates. No additives. It's all natural," Rick Bach said.
Indeed, the ingredient list for the seasoning sauce includes such things as carrots, celery and parsnips.
"Being natural is a whole different story," he said, "all the fat is dried out, otherwise it wouldn't be long before it spoiled."
The Bachs offer original and teriyaki recipes, each in three spice ranges: mild, peppered (spicy) and hot.
If you can't make it over to the Jerky Factory at 4572 Telephone Road, Suite 916 and 917, Ventura, (which also doubles as the Sandwich Factory) you have the option of ordering by mail. Call 1-800-654-4464. Yes, there's even an order-by-fax line: 650-7904. Jerky can be purchased by the piece, in 1- and 4-ounce vacuum sealed bags, or by the pound.
Let's talk turkey.
After customer requests, the Jerky Factory has decided to venture into the turkey jerky business. "We basically got interested in producing turkey jerky because people started asking about it," Rick Bach said.
He said the spicing is different than the beef formula's, and in addition to the original version that is now available, customers may look forward to a barbecue flavor as well.
"We see it as a new place in the market," and so far customers seem to like their turkey jerked, he said.
Our initial taste tests found that turkey jerky is similar in texture and chewiness to the beef variety. It is a few shades lighter.
And although the turkey seasoning recipe is void of "kickapoo juice," it is zesty with a definite turkey taste.
So how does Pacific Coast jerky compare to the jerky back home in South Dakota?
"All I know is that our friends are ordering our jerky," Jim Bach said, "instead of buying the jerky back in South Dakota."
LOCALLY GROWN PRODUCE AND SEAFOOD
* Tangelo Rancho--"We still have some Valencia oranges even though it's late in the season--we started in May," said Jean Warren, who works at the ranch. Highway 126, east of Main Street, Piru. Call 521-1560.
* Underwood Ranch--A wide selection of baby vegetables and lettuces is offered. Call 987-7100. 5696 Los Angeles Ave., Somis.
* Cal Pacifica Seafood--Halibut fanciers are offered a fresh catch. Call 643-2586. 36 Franklin Lane, Ventura.