Sometimes, the best ideas are not too far away from us, and come unannounced, when we least expect them.
That’s how MTL Jerky was born in September 2016. After going through a rough period in his life, Alex Halasz, Founder of MTL Jerky, found himself making jerky as a pastime, to get his mind off stress. Little did he know that this would turn into his full time job.
The idea to launch the company came after a weekend getaway with his friends in August 2016. Alex grew up loving jerky, eating it as a snack during his road trips with friends where he was always in charge of the jerky. Putting all those ingredients together, he thought why not try something no one else was doing.
And another component that had its weight in making him quit his engineer job was Thunder, his buddy and the one that kept him grounded. Thunder is a sweet mix of Boxer and Labrador Ridgeback that he adopted from a shelter at 5 years old and who’d get sad and depressed when he’d see Alex leave on his many travels for his job.
And so the adventure began, with Thunder named as a mascot and therapist.
The MTL Jerky name came from the fact that Montreal is known as one the culinary capitals of the world, and with a vision to expand throughout the province, but also outside, Alex thought that there is no better name to represent the origin of his product in the name.
So, what distinguishes MTL Jerky from others?
Its flavours, they are unique and no other brand offers them. After studying many recipes and looking at the main ingredients, Alex then went off on his own. His mission? Take jerky back.
What does that mean?
Jerky is known as junk food, with lots of preservatives, artificial flavours, etc. What I wanted is to create a quality product with natural ingredient as a snack and great source of protein. MTL Jerky uses A and AAA quality Canadian beef, with natural ingredients, all handmade. The lemon juice for instance is organic, and not made from concentrate.
I developed the recipe on my own, have done lots of tweaking and still do. Mostly on things the consumer won’t notice but that are important to me, and continuous improvement is at the heart of MTL Jerky.
I always want to improve my product. Obviously, there is a fine level that we reach, but it may take years. As far as a business, the recipe is one part of the success.
What influences the taste of jerky?
The combination of ingredients and the quality of the beef, the technique used. It’s a craft like the microbrewery market.
Alex does the production on himself. “Quality control is my big thing, it is hard to give up production, it’s like giving your own child. But it could necessary as a business grows, as long as the quality is maintained”. He adds, “I want to compete with big players but there is a way to keep production in small batch and as a craft to maintain quality. There is a loss of flavour when you go too big, you can’t just double up the recipe. And that is what differentiates us, we are artisanal”.
What did you enjoy most when you used to do the production?
I enjoyed the whole process, it is very therapeutic. From slicing, to marinating, to drying, it is a slow process, time consuming but not stressful.
When I first started, each batch used to take 3-4 days, now it’s done in 12 hours and then I age it for 2 days so the humidity rebalances. We seal and let it hydrate. So I’ve always looked at ways to be more efficient, and my
engineering background helped me do that. The marinating process went from 12 hours to one hour thanks to better equipment to expedite the process. I feel most happy when I make a batch, taste it and I’m satisfied.
What would convince someone to try jerky if they don’t eat it?
Lots of people don’t know how to eat jerky actually. People say the meat is tough, but it is supposed to be tough! Created by the Incans to accompany them during their long journeys as a source of protein that won’t spoil, it is somehow an acquired taste… It’s like the first time you have sushi and oysters, it may feel weird at first, but then you want to have it all the time. People should appreciate it, eat it in small pieces, let the saliva do the work, to break it down, soften it and then eat.
Most people eat jerky while hiking or camping. But you can also add it to salads, pizza, pasta. My favourite is on poutine!
How about the flavours?
I wanted something different from the get go. It has to do with my personal taste. The Original is my take on original. It is perfect for those who like meat. The Lemon Pepper is one I love, because lemon is my favourite fruit, and the Sweet & Spicy, well, no one has done it yet.
Since then, I launched two new flavours, Diablo Beef, which is quite spicy and the Chilli Lime. I will be developing more flavours, one I can think about is a maple flavoured jerky that’s very suited for Montreal. And, there is jerky for dogs now, Thunderbites!
Thunder accompanies me all the time, to a certain point obviously when there is production for sanitary reasons. He always got the leftovers, and that’s how I created Thunderbites.
Your dreams for MTL Jerky?
MTL Jerky is my baby, but I am an entrepreneur as well with so many ideas and things that I want to do. So, I won’t exclude being someday a target for a bigger company as long as they keep my mission statement and the quality as it is, with me being involved.
People who know my story know that it’s been a hard transition from my previous job, but I am here now, and would never look back. I enjoy what I do, I spend more time with Thunder.
Once you find something that you’re passionate about, money becomes just a by product.
Try your favourite jerky flavour.