Wild Jimmy’s sausage and beef jerky business got its start the way many food-based startups do – peer pressure.
“I’d been doing this for 18 or 20 years in my backyard,” said Jimmy Downey, mixing parsley and parmesan cheese into a batch of pork sausage. “People kept telling me, ‘you should sell this.’ This one old Texas boy said, ‘son, you got the taste. Gotta do something with this.’”
The foods’ antecedents go back even further, to the partners’ old family recipes. For five years, Downey sold beef jerky at the Farmers’ Market at Veterans Community Park, grilled for island organizations such as the Rotary Club, and cooked up ribs for the annual police department cook-off.
“The farmers’ market was our test market,” said Downey. He and his partner – marital as well as business – Dale knew they had a hit on their hands when demand kept outstripping supply, and made the decision to take the business to the next level – which is where they ran into the regulatory thicket.
“We had to get so many licenses, certifications and inspections. If I would’ve known, I never would have done it at all,” said Jimmy. Dale, who looks after that end of things, displayed a thick binder of paperwork from various governmental entities.
“There are so many hoops to jump through. We had the FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service of the federal Department of Agriculture), the state department of agriculture, DBPR (Dept. of Business and Prof. Regulation), Hotels and Restaurants, the county, the city – every agency you can think of. It cost us $1,360 just for a hotdog cart inspection.”
In all, they estimate, they invested over 600 hours of time, as well as the dollars, into satisfying all the bureaucratic requirements, as well as operating from a commercial kitchen. Of course, when one is consuming products make from fresh pork, and long shelf life food items such as dried jerky, it is reassuring to know the manufacturer has been put through a rigorous vetting process, and Wild Jimmy’s meets that standard.
The end result of all the cooking, and the work to get right with the regulators, is a veritable cornucopia of delicious charcuterie in a rainbow of flavors and varieties. Starting with their sausages, Wild Jimmy’s offers Italian – sweet or hot, parsley and parmesan pork, mozzarella and broccoli rabe, Polish, bratwurst, Mexican chorizo, summer sausage, jalapeño and cheddar, Swedish potato, English bangers, chicken and pancetta, and – this is one sausage – chicken, mozzarella, basil and sun-dried tomato. And breakfast sausage, which didn’t make it onto the list in the company brochure. They can be ordered in links, coils (or ropes) or patties.
The parsley parmesan, said Jimmy Downey, is the number one seller, and after slow-frying up a batch with a little water in the pan, it’s easy to taste why.
Beef jerky comes in almost as many flavors. Choose among hickory-smoked, hot and spicy, teriyaki, honey whiskey (a personal favorite), pink sea salt and pink peppercorn, and, since we do live on the edge of the Everglades, alligator jerky. The company keeps adding new flavors, with bison jerky on the way. They also offer meatballs in a variety of flavors,
The alligator jerky is made “from the tenderloin, not the tail,” said partner Alex Lushcheko, and all their beef is cut to spec from a ranch near Carson City, Nevada.
“We use brisket,” while some national jerky manufacturers make their product from beef scraps, said Dale.
The products are available every Wednesday in Wild Jimmy’s distinctive wagon, as well as at outlets including Marco Island Florist, Sami’s Pizza, the Moose Lodge and Bombay. The company also delivers orders anywhere on Marco Island, with special orders placed by Monday available on Wednesday.
At CJ’s on the Bay, general manager “Chef Laura” Owens champions the Wild Jimmy product, and has served it at chamber events and wine tastings there.
“We’re all about buying locally, and it doesn’t get any more local than this,” said Owen.
Wild Jimmy’s is regularly seen participating in charitable events and endeavors, and Jimmy and Dale recently put their relationship under the microscope during the Rotary Club “Not So Newlywed Game.”
They are working on a website, and can be reached, in addition to the Farmers’ Market, at 239-784-2318. When asked where the name of the business came from, Dale Downey just pointed to her husband. “Look at him,” she said. And a brand was born – Wild Jimmy’s.