“There are four or five jerky manufacturers in the state, and we’re the only one in Central Florida,” Mr. P said.
Mr. P is Mark Pescatore of Mr. P’s Beef Jerky, which manufactures beef jerky in the DeLand Municipal Airport Industrial Park.
He and his wife, Kathy Pescatore, celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary in July. While they’ve called DeLand home for all those years, they’ve been making beef jerky full time for only 11 years.
The Pescatores were high-school sweethearts, having met when Kathy moved to DeLand from South Florida in 1979. Early in their marriage, they worked for Publix. Mark worked his way up to assistant manager of the DeLand Publix, while Kathy was a deli manager in DeLand and, later, in Orange City.
After 20 years, they decided their Publix careers were over, and started a cleaning company. What sounded like the start of a bright future would take a turn for the worst when the recession hit in 2008.
Mark and Kathy lost all their retirement savings and more, including the cleaning business.
“We were at the point where we lost everything, and my wife won two tickets to the races over there in Daytona,” Mark recalled. It was a chance for them to get their minds off their finances.
Before leaving for the big race, Mark prepared some homemade beef jerky based off a recipe he had perfected over nearly 20 years as a Boy Scout leader, where the Scouts gave him the nickname “Mr. P.”
Mark broke out the jerky during the race and, with the simple intention of showing kindness to those around him, offered some to other racegoers.
One gentleman approached him and said some life-changing words to Mark.
“This is the best jerky I’ve ever tasted. Where’d you get it?” Mark replied that he had made it himself.
The man replied, “You ought to sell this.”
His comments gave Mark the drive to start a beef-jerky business.
Mark and Kathy succeeded in getting federal approval for a plant.
“Everyone told us we couldn’t do it,” Mark said.
Kathy added, “But we had to do it; we had no other choice.”
Mr. P’s Beef Jerky now operates in a federal plant that gets inspected every single day by the U.S. Department of Agriculture — under the same scrutiny as large operations like Tyson and Oscar Mayer.
“Being inspected is a fantastic thing because you never let your guard down,” Mark said.
Cooking the jerky is an all-day process, which means long hours, but the Pescatores are at the point now where they can have a day off during the week.
“When we cook, it takes about 10 hours for the jerky to cook, two hours to load the oven, and two hours to clean,” Mark said. “In total, we’re here for about 14 hours a day.”
Every piece of meat is handled individually to check for proper preparation.
“Our jerky is unique; it’s different,” Mark said, as Kathy brought out a tray with all the different flavors.
All of Mr. P’s Jerky comes packaged in a clear zip-close bag with stickers on the front and back proudly advertising “made in DeLand, Florida,” along with the ingredients and the business address.
Mark explained the use of a clear bag: “We want our customers to see the product more than the bag.”
Like a Sour Patch Kid candy, first sour then sweet, the flavor of Mr. P’s Beef Jerky sneaks up on you. No matter the flavor, when you first take a bite you taste the meat, followed by a very good blend of spices.
“Most of the commercial jerkies, once you put it in your mouth, that’s what you’re going to taste,” Mark said. “Not ours.”
Kathy advised letting the jerky sit in your mouth for a moment to soften before beginning to chew.
Mark’s original flavor is called Just Jerky. It was the first jerky he ever made, back in the Scouting days, and the method dates back even further.
“This is how they did it back in the old days,” Mark said.
The Hot Jerky is made with a blend of hot sauces, while the Spicy is their take on a peppered jerky.
Kathy said customers regularly use the jerky in unconventional ways, such as cooking the jerky inside a chicken breast or in stews.
She also mentioned that the Plain, in particular, is a great treat for dogs, because it has no seasonings, just the natural meat flavor. Judging by the tail wagging and the extra attention he gave me after I slipped him a few pieces, my pup, Charlie, agrees.
Mr. P’s Beef Jerky can be found in a number of stores in and around DeLand, and can be purchased online (with the exception of Plain). Customers can also visit the Mr. P’s headquarters at 1220 Biscayne Blvd. Mark and Kathy also regularly attend trade shows around Florida.
“We have internet sales all over the world,’’ Kathy said, pointing to a map on the wall that shows everywhere they’ve shipped their jerky. They’ve shipped to every continent except Antarctica.
Talking about the struggle of losing all they had and building Mr. P’s from the ground up, with nothing but a jerky recipe, still brings tears to Mark’s eyes.
They were lucky to somehow manage to start a business when many businesses were closing, and they don’t take their good fortune — or their customers from all over the world — for granted.
“We were supposed to be retired right now and fishing,” Kathy said.
They aren’t retired yet, but they’re in a great place.
“By the grace of God, the jerky did it. We make it with love, and then people love it,” Mark said.