Interviews

Published on February 6th, 2019 | by Darren Paltrowitz

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Made By True’s Jess Thomas On Making Biltong, The Company’s San Francisco Store & More

Biltong is a traditional South African style of air-cured meat made with five traditional ingredients: beef, vinegar, salt, pepper and coriander. In turn, there is ZERO SUGAR in Made By True’s Biltong, which is available in three adventurous flavors: Cape Town Classic (Salt, Pepper and Coriander), South African Savory (Garlic, Herb and Spices) and Little Bit of Spice (Coriander, Chili Powder and Paprika). Made By True’s Biltong is that it is simultaneously gluten-free, soy-free, Whole 30 and keto-approved.

Also notable about Made By True — which includes a pick for flossing in each bag — is that it has its own store in San Francisco. I had the pleasure of asking Made By True’s Jess Thomas about this and more on behalf of The Hype. More on Made By True can be found online at www.madebytrue.com.

Made By True recently opened up a store in San Francisco. How long was this in the works for?

Jess Thomas: About a year. We found this killer, affordable retail space in a great shopping district and just decided to grab it. If nothing else, it was way better than working out of a WeWork — no offense, WeWork. Then we just worked out of it and waited until we were ready to really commit to building out the retail experience, and until the right concept hit us. We moved in in October of ‘17, then figured out what we wanted to do around June and took the summer to put it together.

Does the store have any offerings or exclusives that can’t be found elsewhere?

Jess Thomas: Besides the exclusive opportunity to hang out with us, you mean? We’re working on a few store-only promotional items, but mostly the uniqueness of the in-store experience will be more about the experience itself. Right now we sell coffee and kombucha on draft, and it’s designed to be a place where people can come in and hang out, use the WiFi, and snack on some jerky. We are also going to start hosting local pop-up style events like food tastings, wine/beer pairings, and maybe even some Warriors watch parties come playoff time.

The average American knows jerky, but not necessarily biltong. How did you first find out about biltong?

Jess Thomas: Biltong was one of those things where the legend sort of preceded the product. People would come up to us at trade shows — South African ex-pats, mostly — and speak about biltong in almost mythical terms: “Okay yeah your jerky is awesome, but have you ever tried Biltong? It’s AMAZING. You HAVE to try it. Can you start making Biltong? Please?” Eventually our restless curiosity got the best of us.

What in inspired the team’s trip to South Africa?

Jess Thomas: We wanted to really understand what makes Biltong so special. Americans don’t talk about jerky in remotely the same way that South Africans talk about Biltong — I wish they did, believe me. We could tell that there was something really culturally significant about it, and we wanted to understand what and why. It would feel disingenuous to develop this product without understanding or acknowledging its origins, which we appreciate even more having been there. There’s so much national pride surrounding Biltong, and we feel like that rubbed off on us.
Also, Great White Shark diving.

What came first: The idea to make biltong, or knowing that you would be making healthy snacks?

Jess Thomas: We’ve always been in healthy snacks. Ever since we started, we just said, “Hey, we’re not a jerky company, we’re a healthy snacks brand, and we’re open to anything under that umbrella as long as it a) tastes f***ing delicious, and b) excites us as individuals.” We won’t sell anything that we aren’t really passionate about, no matter how interesting it seems. Biltong wasn’t even something we knew about when we started the company, but we’re very glad to have discovered it.

Do you have a favorite of the Made By True offerings?

Jess Thomas: It’s tough to say because I’ve been eating our jerky and trail mixes for years, and Biltong is the shiny new toy. But I really do think it might be my favorite snack out there, of any type. The freshness, tenderness, and clean, subtle flavor profiles make it such an enjoyable eating experience. And then you throw in the clean ingredients and the lack of sugar, and it’s hard not to love. But I really do love all our products, sincerely. We’ve actually gotten rid of products entirely because one day we just said, “Meh, I don’t really like eating that anymore. Let’s not sell it.”

What is coming up for Made By True in 2019?

Jess Thomas: Lots of cool stuff! A few new hires, three new product line introductions, and hopefully some fun marketing initiatives. Follow our socials for all the latest and greatest.

Is there something you wish more people knew about Made By True?

Jess Thomas: I would settle for more people just knowing us! We would love to engage more people not just in stores, but on social, at events, everywhere. We love interacting with consumers of all types, even those who don’t eat our stuff!

When not busy with work, how do you like to spend your free time?

Jess Thomas: I’m obsessed with food. When I’m in San Francisco or traveling — which is often — I’m always on the lookout for good restaurants or fun bars. Exercise keeps me sane during the week, and I try to cook as much as one can in a 50-square-foot kitchen. But as soon as April/May hit I try and make it up to our cattle ranch in Oregon as much as possible. I’m a country kid at heart, and I’ll do anything I can outdoors: fishing, hunting, riding horses, roping, hiking, you name it… I need a lot of stimulus… Having a creative outlet outside of work is really important for me. I’m also looking into taking up piano.

As a music-centric publication, I must ask: What was the last concert you attended for fun?

Jess Thomas: Rufus Du Sol.

Finally, Jess, any last words for the kids?

Jess Thomas: Advice is a tricky thing — it’s generally either too vague or too specific to be useful. But one piece of advice that my dad gave me when I was young, and that’s served me incredibly well throughout my life, is to learn to write well. Practice writing and make it a priority, and it will go a long way for you, particularly if you want to go into business. You may or may not use anything else you learn at any level of school, but if you are a strong writer you will use that skill every single day, to great advantage.


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About the Author

is a New York resident (and Long Island native) with over 15 years of entertainment industry experience. He began working around the music business as a teenager, interning for the manager of his then-favorite band Superdrag. In the years following, he worked with a wide array of artists including OK Go, They Might Be Giants, Mike Viola, Loudness, Rachael Yamagata, and Amanda Palmer.Darren's writing has appeared in dozens of outlets including the New York Daily News, Inquisitr, The Daily Meal, The Hype Magazine, All Music Guide, Guitar World, TheStreet.com, Format Magazine, Businessweek, The Improper, the L.A. Times, and the Jewish Journal. He has been a member of the SATW and the IFWTWA organizations as a food and travel writer.Beyond being "Editor At Large" for The Hype Magazine, Darren is also the host the recently-launched "Paltrocast With Darren Paltrowitz" podcast, as co-produced with PureGrainAudio.


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