Snacking is fun, as long as you don't read the ingredients on the back of the package, says Brian Back, owner of Backattack Snacks
, a Westlake-based seller of naturally made beefy jerky and almonds.
An average pack of "gas station jerky," for example, is loaded with preservatives and strange chemicals that begin with "poly." Backattack's Ohio-raised Angus beef jerky, made by the proprietor on site at Cleveland Culinary Launch & Kitchen (CCLK
), has only nine ingredients, all of which can be pronounced by his nine-year-old daughter, Graci. Back's email signature says, "You should never need a PhD in chemistry to understand what you are eating," a thought he reiterated during a recent interview with Fresh Water Cleveland
"Our jerky is made of meat and spices," says Back. "That's it."
Back and wife Lauren also sell five varieties of roasted almonds in flavors including wasabi ginger and pumpkin spice. The couple's Chocolate Firecracker brand continues the business's all-natural trend, containing cayenne pepper, Himalaya sea salt, organic raw cacao, and honey sourced from area apiaries.
Back's jerky isn't in stores but can be purchased online, at local farmer's markets or at the Merchant's Mrkt
collaborative retail storefront in Legacy Village. His almonds can be found at Heinen's, Mustard Seed Market and various mom-and-pop shops throughout the region. Since launching Backattack Snacks in 2015, the owners have expanded their reach into six states outside Ohio.
"The goal for this year is to get our almonds into bigger stores," says Back. "We also want to be a vendor at Progressive Field."
The story behind the snacks started when the Backs' passion for cooking and fitness led them to experiment with healthy nibbles for athletes. They made beef jerky for family and friends, then used their jerky marinade to roast almonds.
In kicking off their snack business, the first-time owners enlisted the aid of fellow Cleveland food entrepreneurs, who mentored them in the ways of pricing, labor and product placement. Local food service veterans Tim Skaryd and his father, William
, gave the Backs invaluable advice on packaging and other manufacturing minutiae.
"You always have to keep learning," Back says.
Handmade snacking goodness does not come cheap. A quarter-pound of jerky goes for $13, while a half-pound of Chocolate Firecracker costs $9, but the price tags have a conscious. A portion of sales helps fund the Johns Hopkins Heart and Vascular Institute
's research of arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplaysia (ARVD), a rare heart condition that is a leading cause of sudden death in young athletes.
Meanwhile, the young entrepreneurs will keep providing high-quality almonds and chewy beef to health-conscious consumers.
"We're meeting some big players in the space and seeing them enjoying our product as much as everyone else is," says Back. "The coolest thing is seeing our work come to where it has."