Kenny Howell was literally almost everywhere in the early years of 2000 promoting his homemade Uncle Zip’s Beef Jerky.
You could see him at high school and professional sporting events in his trademark white apron and chef’s hat selling the original flavor of his jerky.
His business peaked when he made an appearance on the hit TV show “Shark Tank” in 2011. He didn’t get the big cash prize while on the show, but he did get a so-called “Oprah bounce” from the national exposure that was both a blessing and a curse as the orders that emanated from a national show were sometimes too much for a small business to handle.
Then came tragedy when Howell fell ill and passed way in 2014. The business floundered for a time until childhood friend Jeff Harris stepped in to right the ship.
Now, from its location on Trade Street in Hope Mills, Uncle Zip’s is back in business, with the original flavor of jerky and more for sale, and a slightly different direction for the business than the one Howell had established.
When Howell passed away, Harris tried to keep the business going with co-packing, getting someone else to produce the product and selling it.
That proved ineffective, so Harris decided to return to the roots Howell had established, making the jerky himself.
“We make it all right here in small batches,’’ Harris said. “Kenny always said homestyle, like if you make a small batch at home. It’s going to taste just like that.’’
Harris doesn’t promote Uncle Zip’s with the flair that Howell did, but he returned to Howell’s original flavor of jerky, which is flavored with soy and, in Harris’ words, is still awesome.
He’s expanded the line of flavors considerably. Selling almost as well as the original jerky is a teriyaki flavor that’s marinated in pineapple, Harris said. He’s also added hot chili lime, mesquite smoke, sriracha and habanero.
His daughter, Jenna Harris, has an interest in culinary work. Harris found some recipes Howell had hidden away, and Jenna tweaked one of them to be a spicy version. Harris said he can’t keep it in stock.
If making a decision on which flavor to buy is a problem, Harris said that’s no worry. There’s a tasting table located in the company’s Trade Street headquarters. “You can get a cup and taste the flavor before you buy,’’ Harris said. “It’s made daily.’’
Uncle Zip’s is currently open seven days a week, normally from noon until 7 p.m. weekdays and from noon to 5 p.m. on weekends.
You can walk in and buy the product, or visit the business website at www.unclezipsbeefjerky.com.
Harris takes orders for the product over the internet. Depending on his personal schedule, he may actually bring your order directly to you.
You can also find it available for sale in a variety of local businesses, from small food markets to bars and bowling lanes.
To find out more about Uncle Zip’s and what it has to offer, visit the Facebook page by searching the business title in the Facebook search bar.