Tri-tips are the triangular pieces of beef cut from the bottom sirloin. In the Midwest, this cut is primarily created for stew meat or ground into a ground sirloin.
In 2006, roughly three weeks after the opening of our brand-new business, a customer—we’ll call him Mr. Smith—with California roots asked us to cut him a couple of tri-tip roasts. Our butcher at the time knew the cut well but felt that carrying it in-store on a regular basis wasn’t a wise idea.
“No one will know what to do with it—that’s a cut we need to grow into,” he stated.
However, as I’m not one to deny a reasonable request, we took a cut of bottom sirloin and fabricated the customer a couple of roasts. A few days later, he brought us a treat—a marinated, grilled and sliced tri-tip portion for our sampling. It was delicious!
That’s when Mr. Smith gave us the real story on successful tri-tip cooking. Ailing from Santa Maria, California, Mr. Smith told us the story of how during the 1950s, fresh out of college, he shopped at a grocery/butcher named the Santa Maria Market. The butcher, Bob Shultz, introduced him to the tri-tip cut and taught him how to marinate and barbecue it!
“I don’t have a spit here in Indiana, but in California, we used to marinate the cut, tie two together with the fat cap facing out and then barbecue them over hot coals while drizzling them with marinade as they rotate and cook. We cooked them until they were medium rare and sliced them up for everyone to enjoy. They were a big hit!”
Needless to say, we agreed. But the marinade … would he give us the recipe? Could we make it and sell it at Joe’s to package the deal with a fresh tri-tip? Mr. Smith shared his secret: “I buy a Tri-tip marinade from California.”
We asked for the bottle and tracked down the very small maker of the marinade—a boutique gourmet food bottler located near San Francisco. We called Lawrence, the bottler, and with reluctance, he agreed to ship several cases to Indiana labeled, ‘California Tri-tip marinade.’
Over the course of our first year in business, the cut and marinade attracted mostly California natives. However, we worked hard to inform our customer base about the cut and how they should marinade it for several days after we vacuum sealed it with the sauce. In year two and three, the cut exploded in popularity and became one of our most popular cuts. Everybody loved the richness of the meat and the way the marinade accented it. Grilled on a gas or charcoal grill, then removed of most fat and sliced, it became an economical way to feed a family and impress unknowing Hoosier guests.
As the popularity grew over the years, so did Lawrence’s company. He wasn’t making just tri-tip marinade, but an entire line of gourmet and equally-impressive sauces and dressings. He approached us about a small retailer private label for the tri-tip marinade. We agreed and noted that the marinade would do equally as well on any cheaper cut of steak such as a sirloin, London broil round, or chuck eye steak.
That’s how the Joe’s Butcher Shop Marinade was born. It quicky became a Joe’s customer staple and one our most popular items.
We had a great deal with Lawrence. Our product was manufactured and shipped to him without a label. He then made and applied our legal label, and all was good. This also allowed Lawrence to make private labels for others as his sauces and marinade popularity grew. However, recently, California passed a new law (yes Midwesterners, California passes odd laws, just every so often!) stating that product cannot leave a manufacturer without a label. The manufacturer was in no place to do small batch labeling, so the official order came to Joe’s.
If we wanted to continue carrying our best-selling marinade, we would have to buy at the manufacturer’s minimum of 12 times what we buy on a monthly basis. The marinade does not spoil, but storage here at Joe’s for 12 months of inventory isn’t practical. Lucky for us, Lawrence had space and was willing to ship to us monthly if we agreed to a 12-month buy.
Now enter Covid-19 … a lack of bottles, lack of ink for the labels and lack of labor at the manufacturer meant we would be without Joe’s Marinade for months. It’s not secret … we are still out! However, the silver lining is that we’ve made progress and expect a shipment sometime in the next 30 days!
There you a have it—a somewhat complicated, yet interesting look into what makes a winning product at Joe’s!