Pan's Mushroom Jerky: "This can be a lonely journey; you're not alone. Build a network. It takes a lot of grit and grind to get things off the ground."
Craft Food Classroom
Craft Food Classroom

Episode · 6 months ago

Pan's Mushroom Jerky: "This can be a lonely journey; you're not alone. Build a network. It takes a lot of grit and grind to get things off the ground."


Pan's Mushroom Jerky: "This can be a lonely journey; you're not alone. Build a network. It takes a lot of grit and grind to get things off the ground."

Michael Pan grew up in Starkville, Mississippi. His roots are spread across the globe from Peru to a small fishing village in Malaysia. Family traditions inspired him to create an unbelievably satisfying Mushroom Jerky. Michael shares the story of his journey and some outstanding knowledge about how entrepreneurs can find their unique paths.









This podcast is brought to you by Hyden's, founded in one thousand nine hundred and twenty nine and Shaker Heights, Ohio, by local butcher Joe Hyden. Hindans is grown to twenty three total locations, with nineteen stores in the Cleveland area and for in the north shore suburbs of Chicago. After years of building connection with Midwest farmers, it became a part of Hyden's nature to do business with smaller regional companies. Today, Hydans is proud to carry nearly seven hundred Midwest made non produce items that are present in all departments. For more information, go to hyandscom. Welcome to the craft food classroom podcast, where we help make food business simple at every stage of growth. Brought to you by central kitchen media and now here's your host, Eric Diamond. Hey, everybody, this is Barry Jarvis, back for another episode of the craft food classroom, the podcast. I am writing solo as your host today and I am here virtual with a very exciting guest coming to us from Portland, Oregon, Michael Pan from pans mushroom Jerky, a panco foods. Is that the yeah, that's our kind of you know, Boring Company name. But no, our brand is pans and yeah, we've make pants mush from jerky. It's amazing. Welcome to the show. Thanks for joining, thanks for having me. Appreciate it. Yeah, so I'm sure the most common question you get asked is probably about shark tank, so I won't go there to start off, but tell me about what. Were you born in the US or I was? Yeah, believe or not, I was born and raised in a small town in Mississippi. Whoa yeah, Small College town called Starkville, Mississippi, and born and raised. was there until I went to went to school. But yeah, I know I sound like it and everything, but it's born raised there, not at you know, it's like soul food down there. I don't know, it's not a really state that comes to mind, you know, when I think kraft food. But yeah, I know it's obviously you know all the things that you'd think of course, barbecue and just kind of tail getting food and but yeah, you'd be surprised. Are just a lot of and really, in hindsight, looking back on growing up, there just a lot of there are a lot of unique dishes that I think are starting to come to light more and more but yeah, and my and I myself had my own version of that with my with my background. So, yeah, did you always love food? Have a good, good food memories in your childhood or you know, I I did, but without, I guess, being a Foodie. I don't know if that makes sense. I didn't really. I don't love the term. Yeah, I'm, of course, like everyone. I loved food, but you know, just it's always food, is always something. Obviously there's just, you know, taste and how good meals are, but also just the memories you have tied to your experiences, right, whether whatever stage your life, whether it's as a child, you're, you know, parents making you whatever dishes you loved, all the way to, you know, being with your friends gathering over whatever meals that you love to have after school or whatever. Just I think that was just like everyone. A lot of people just had those memories, but I definitely am not. You know, could didn't come out of school or out of the womb thinking I was going to make a food company. I'll just say that. So, yeah, your backgrounds engineering. Right, it is. lets go engineering. So after being, you know, growing up in Mississippi, went to University of Illinois and Champaign or Banna and got a lettrical and engineering degree which, you know, believe or not, has served some purposes and served me well, and in food. But yeah, I...

...mean in a lot always else. So through that degree away and I decided to do something pretty different. Yeah, yeah, I bet that comes in handy when the dehydrator that's down. Yeah, yeah, I mean I you know, when I talk to other people that are started off, I'm always like it and you know, everyone's obviously everyone's journeys different. How you get there and you know, education and experience are all fantastic, but I'm really thankful and engineering and our school, you know, ultimately helps you think, think their problems right, and that's a lot of what you need, I think, to get off the ground and get going and in entrepreneurship. So very thankful for that. Yeah, yeah, that's and that that leads into now. You still obviously had a lot of family roots in Malaysia and yeah, yeah, you went back after many years. Describe that journey. Yeah, so, my so my mom is actually from Peru and my dad's from a small fishing village in Malaysia, and that's a whole other story, another podcast maybe. If you want, but they they up meeting, of all places, in Starkville, Mississippi, and that Mississippi State. It is Mississippi State. There you go, big bulldog fan. And so and so, when you know he came over when he was fourteen by himself, used to know English and the support and stuff their college, and and and again. Even though I grew up there and I loved it there, I just always felt pretty disconnected actually from my family heritage, and so I love visiting a standard family whenever I couldn't learning as much as they could about, you know, my background, of my culture. And so during one of these visits, and male is a there was this bowl of food in the table. I didn't know it was. I thought I was actually pork and but I was really confused with my family there. But their Buddhists, fishing Buddhists. So is like, what is this? And that's when I learned that I was actually eating a mushroom. And I quickly found out that my cousin had been making a the snack for himself or his family and selling it locally. And as Vegetarians, they found it hard to find foods, and not only taste grape but also had a really, really great texture. And you know, they found that mushrooms were very satisfying and, not to mention healthy. And what what that trip did is it really just ob myse to this amazing culture that I have been have a connection with, that have been producing and making innovative foods that mimic the taste and texture meet for a long, long time, and my family member just happening to have a mushroom version of that. But you know, after that trip I just fell in love with the product, it's history, my connection to it, and and that's when I knew in my family had something that we needed to share with the rest of the world, and that's when I launched pans western Jerky part time while I was doing my engineering career. Yeah, wow, that that. Having that that Vegetarian Buddhist background is so unique and it just nothing against like a fake Burger Patty that made out of soay or anything, but this is so I mean it's a whole food. It's you're not you're going right along with nature, you know. Yeah, and and I agree with how you phrase that all. So it's not to I don't knock any of the you know, engineered and meat and food and from a lab. And you know, that's that's great. I think it helps push the plant based move and it just make more options available. So it's fantastic. But we are very proud that. Yeah, we're we aren't necessarily engineered. We're not, you know, made in a lab and figured out how to back engineer things, but it's it's a whole food that happens to be a mushroom and and stirs really well as a meat meat. Replace it if you'd like, or if you just like mushrooms in general and want to have those healthy benefits of much provide on the go. Then you know, that's the that's the need we fill. And and like I said, I think it just that trip really, you know, like all great familiesy show me all the you know, the sites...

...and everything, but also they fed me like crazy and so, you know, just seeing this is back in the mid late s. You know, Vegan was still Vegan. It wasn't plant based and you know, they part of the Diet was eating foods that really tastes like any other dish you'd have that had meat in it, but they were, you know, able to use everything from course, soy to tow foods, all sorts of ingredients to mimic meat and wouldn't know the difference. And it was. It was incredible eye opening experience. Yeah, I can imagine. I, you know, use some of this for my boys. I have three boys. We use some zesty tie and just a fried rice, you know, and absolutely delicious. They S Grit Dere didn't even question what it was. Thought it was flame and yon it's something. Well, it's great. Yeah, so how did how were you positioned coming into all the sudden wearing a pandemic? Yeah, well, that's it's a it's a good one. I mean I, like a lot of people, we were we were, in fact, we were lucky to be on, I think, the good side of the issues that were than the challenges that came forth. But you know, our experience was very much we were we were starting to become. We officially launched in two thousand and eighteen roughly, and that's when we started to get some traction and, you know, like a lot of a lot of startups and food startups, you know, it's a grind to get out of the gates, but we did and we went from this kind of shared kitchen situation with no probably I don't know, five or five eight people who were, you know, doing a lot of things, but manually by hand. We didn't have a we still don't today have a ton of equipment, and so you kind of have an intimate group, right that kind of get helps produce your product. And we grew again in two thousand and Nineen so we were starting to expand out and two thousand and twenty we made this big leap to get our own facility. That wasn't a shared, you know, kitchen situation and the the pandemic it. And so for us I think it was just a we were lucky that we didn't have to we didn't have to shut down because we weren't a restaurant. We weren't we didn't have customers. So I feel still today. I feel for all the food service, you know people out there. But for us, you know, it became a quick wakeup call for we have. You know, we're not it's not just myself and some friends doing this, it's we have staff of many different ages and different backgrounds, different health conditions and, you know, to be faced with are we putting our employees and team at risk to potentially die. That that was pretty, pretty scary. And so, you know, in the midst of all the challenges of growing a business, at starting one, you know quickly we've met with this real world things. was extremely nerve racking and scary. And but we were lucky that we're able to move into a space and you know, we were. We were very aggressive early on in terms of, you know, keeping up with the news and what what needed to happen, and so we know, massed up as soon as we could and as we knew is that was an option and then spread out as much as we could and we were lucky that we're able to do that and continue operating. But yeah, we had to be we had to be on the forefront of it. It wasn't something we were we could be just passive about. Yeah, I can tell that your employees mean a lot to that was clear. And do you do you put that? You know, that is like part of your recipe is treating treating your employees like family. I kind of get vibe from you. Know. Yeah, I mean we are small but mighty team, and you know your companies as good as the people who, you know, make make it up right there. They're good as good as the company you keep. And you know, we try our best to obviously take care of our small but mighty team and as we grow we continue to try to give back... them. But you know, as you can imagine, it's working for a start up in a small company. Isn't easy for everyone, right, of course. Yeah, especially when you're growing. But you know, one of the great things when you work with companies like us it's there's there's just opportunity out there and the people we have in they can make a difference. We don't have extra people, it's everyone is there that's going to make an impact and it takes certain people to want to do that. Yeah, and we're lucky that we found a good team to get us to this point. Yeah, yeah, and speaking of a team, we obviously big thanks to Hyans and we always there. There's twenty locations here in Cleveland and, as you know, and employees are so knowledgeable and helpful and happy to be there. How is your relationship with with Hyghans? I know you work with Matt Shelley. Yeah, yeah, I know, it's incredible. I mean I think some of the other background that we had was that when you mentioned the pandemic. I mean a lot of we've been bootstrapped through meeting we did. We didn't raise capital and so we went from really relied on on debt and ultimately sales to fund our business in our growth. And so, you know, one of the things that we're thankful for people like mad at high ends and is just, you know, giving us this early chance in a category that's very new and you know, those early bets they made on us really helped us keep us a float during a very challenging time to grow, and so we're always very, very thankful for that and their partnership in helping small businesses get their footing in the market and to help grow in a very exciting category. So they were very instrumental in helping us provide that foundation we needed to not only get us through the pandemic but also to, you know, continue to grow. Yeah, you know, you you mentioned the category. It's kind of its own category, right. I mean you probably buy the beef Jerkey in many cases, but you probably you know, you never know what where you're going to be right. Yeah, you know, it's funny again, I started I started this in a part time basis in two thousand and six or seven or eight or something way S. and yeah, I've been told over and over again that either know or you know. Why do people need this? Do My do my bubba's will they really eat this? And you know, that was hard to hear, but it's looking back, the timing was everything. We were probably a bit too early and luckily in you know, two thousand and six, two thousand and eighteen, when I essentially that's when we jumped in full time to this. The markt was changing and so veganism was not it was starting to be become more broad, it was becoming more popular and transition of plant based and of course people that, you know, large companies of you know, invest a lot of capital and have come out to help spread awareness, which is great. And Mushrooms are also starting to become more popular in terms of, you know, how do you get it in everyday items you're whether it's your drink or in food and so on. And and not only that, but jerky and snacking were still growing in the category that was already pretty crowded in the meat side. And so the category has evolved in an exciting way and now you know, while, of course, our plant based and Vegan customers are still a core, our core custer and people who are huge advocates of us, we are super excited about the this larger population as well who, you know, they may not be fully all end is a hundred percent plant based, but they are aware of the need for reduced see meat and take, whether it's because the health reasons, to be more environmentally conscious or or animal cruelty. Wise it,...

...whatever the reasons are, they that's just happening more and war, and so we're happy to kind of provide that gateway and transition that people may or may want to start dipping their toes into more of a plant based lifestyle and we're happy to serve that. But yeah, it's just amazing to see how much the categories change and now it's now it is its own thing. It's you do need all the meat sacks, of course, but now it's very apparent that you need these plant based options as well, like us. Yeah, those are all fantastic, I mean very important reasons in their own right and it's it's really important that you know, like you said, there's various reasons, but those all mean a lot to me. So and we're lucky that people like hindhuns, you know, took a leap early on. I mean I think that's what's exciting and that's what always you think for that not only were they looking to change their category in the set in that direction early on, but also they, yeah, they took a chance on a small business like us. Yeah, yeah, we hear that so much with our local you're they actually probably the furthest we've done yet from, you know, Cleveland, but sure you hear that a lot. It's the first break that a lot of people get and that's sometimes the most important one. Yeah, speaking of breaks, you know, I have to have to ask now, how has it been? I mean I know you've been on all kinds of exposure nationally. Was it good morning America or we got a little spot on the today show one point? Nay, we've been very fortunate, I mean I'd say lucky, to be in a good category in general. That's I think it speaks to the market and how it's transition over the past, you know, three to four years. People are still looking for just healthy snacks and and options out there, and so we're yeah, we're lucky. We are. We are in that category. We've also worked hard, obviously, to get the exposure we wanted as well. So, you know, awareness is it's not cheap, but we've been we've worked hard to get that awareness. Yeah, that's that's great. And Shark tank obviously is. That's such a shareable clit. I mean I've shared that with some people when I, you know, was saying that I was going to be on here. How's that been for you? Yeah, but that is a a lot of people watch that show. Yeah, and I underestimated how many people did. I'm you know, I, like a lot of people, I've been a fan my whole you know, my whole life and watch from beginning and it's pretty surreal to go from the couch to that invited arments and but it's been amazing. Not to get too dramatic about it, but, yeah, truly change my life and our trajectory and you know, it's no silver bullet by any means, but it is an amazing acid an experience that we are still leveraging today. And and you know, we joined Mark Cuban companies as well and he's been fantastic in him and his team and we're just excited to continue working with them to grow a business. So yeah, yeah, the experience overall very surreal, incredible, emotional. I didn't intend to cry on the show, I did and all those feelings were real. Just really, really interesting to go through. Yeah, is marking there making jerky today or I know we got some shipments to make, so I got to call him up to make sure he's got some the shipment out to high ends. But no, you know, they they're really fantastic in terms of you know, there's involved, as we need them to be. Obviously get there as much as I'm sure he would be willing. I'm not expecting to come, you know ship or make some product for us, but you know, his network and his... or just amazing in terms of, you know, supporting us through this stage of growth. There's no short the challenges we're going through and we are trying to surround ourselves with people with experience, to people with resource versus to help us through this, and they've been critical and helping with that so well. We are going to take quick break to hear from Hyan's and I'm excited to try these new varieties I haven't tried yet when we get back and thanks for joining us on the craft food classroom and we'll be right back. Do you have an amazing food product that's retail ready? If so, you should check out our class on delivering the perfect pitch. It's taught by Kim Hyden from Hyden's and she heads up the category management team. She's going to take you through the key differentiators that will set you and your product apart, as well as to give you the four peas of a perfect pitch. It really is a great road map to get you on retail shelves, so check that out at the central dot kitchen classroom. Thanks for listening. Are you still using spreadsheets to manage your inventory, suppliers, copackers and production, unless you're an expert with those cells and formulas. You can only grow so much with spreadsheets. When you're selling on your website, in retail stores and online market places and more, it gets hard to track your inventory levels. As a CPG brand, your inventory is literally cash. If you don't track it at every level and order it at the right time, stockouts become a regular occurrence and fulfilling orders keeps you awake at night. Use Fiddle instead. Our software is built to help CPG businesses like yours scale more easily with constant insight into your inventory and production at all levels. Go to fiddle that I owe to learn more and schedule a personalized demo. Welcome back to the craft food classroom podcast with Michael Pan. We are now. This is the best part and I am a big fan of your products, but there's two here that I've never tasted, so I'm going to ask you for any inspirational I taste these so it's not just me chewing what? What inspiration would you offer or little nuggets of wisdom for for someone starting out kind of like you were in, Oh, six, O seven in that timeframe? What would you offer for inspiration to that person, that entrepreneur? Whoo oh, that's a loaded question, but I think a few off time I had, it would be number one, whether it this could be a lonely journey in general. You know not everyone you know. There's a you're not a own. It's kind of what I would tell people that there are a lot of people different stages going through what you're going through, and you know a lot of times it's hopefully you're able to build a network of other people doing something similar and really having people to lean on, whether it's real practical advice to grow or build a business or just listening, is extremely important for your own mental just grit to get through this, because you I think what I've learned from myself at last is that takes a lot of grit and grind to get things off the ground. So I think that's very important, whatever challenge you face. And then, so that would be a big one that I honestly underestimated. It's really great to hear that Cleveland seems to have that, that environment as well connecting with other people and and also just other Tutis. That's fantastic. And then...

I say the thing is for me, especially in a new category and a new product, we did our best to to learn as cheaply as possible. That makes sense, but works and what doesn't, and so we you know, I try to keep that mantra of just, you know, learn very as cheap as I can and continue pushing the envelope and whatever area it is, whether it's a product or whether that's in our sales. Yeah, incrementally improving and continuous to prove. It's a big thing starting something new and and just being having that mindset and being okay with a failure that happens or if, you know, feedback doesn't go your way, take it in digested just as needed and move forward. And so I think if I would have reacted too strongly for whatever negative thing came my way, I would I wouldn't have last it. Don't think so. I think those are two big ones for me that I try to share people. That's great. We see so many people that, you know, do feel like they're alone sometimes and trying to build that community and it's tough when you have to make everything and then, yeah, you're so tired and run down, but then you have to go sell it, you know. And Yeah, yeah, self manufacturing is not for the not for the faint of heart, but you just have to. I think that's as important stuff to kind of to take, I think, to grow as an entrepreneur and as your company. But and well, the last thing I was going to mention is that, you know, I while I did mention surround yourself people who have extratise and so on, which I think is absolutely necessary important, I think it's also important to know that not every path is the same and be aware of that. You know, just because so and so or did it this way or you know a similar vendor or company to another way, doesn't mean it's your path. And a lot of it depends very much on so many factors. Well, it's your product or category, you're funding and so on. I just think it's important for for the entreneur to know, to hear the listen, but ultimately you you make the decision that makes sense to your business ultimately, and don't don't allow fear, hopefully and other influences directing in a way that maybe you shouldn't go. And Yeah, so that's that's that's great information. I'll just say you know, these are amazing and I'm so glad that this would only be like four hundred and sixty calories if I eat both mads, right. I think that's right. Yeah, I appreciate that. Yeah, so delicious. Well, I really appreciate your mission and these products are so needed for the world. So thank you for all you're doing, thanks for sharing your inspiration. Any closing thoughts? No, again, thank you for having me. I think it's important to have platforms to be able to share our message and what we're doing. So very thankful for just having the platform to to talk about our product and myself my team very much appreciate it. Yeah, that's that's fantastic. Well, best of luck to you. I know you're going to continue to grow and be available world. Why are you in any other countries yet? Or Not yet? We're we're still working on that, but we have hopefully, we have big dreams. I'll set up. Yeah, I think that'll happen soon. Thank you. Well, appreciate it, Michael. Keep up the fantastic work. Thanks so much. Okay, thanks for joining us on the craft food classroom podcast. We will see you next time. Thanks for joining on the craft food classroom podcast, where we help make food business simple at every stage of growth. Brought to you by central kitchen media. To learn more about what we're doing, visit us at the central dot... Please subscribe to this podcast to learn more about food entrepreneurs and their experience in the craft food business. This podcast is brought to you by Hyden's, founded in nineteen twenty nine and Shaker Heights, Ohio, by local butcher Joe Hayden. Hydans is grown to twenty three total locations, with nineteen stores in the Cleveland area and for in the north shore suburbs of Chicago. After years of building connection with Midwest farmers, it became a part of Hyden's nature to do business with smaller regional companies. Today, Hydans is proud to carry nearly seven hundred Midwest made non produce items that are present in all departments. For more information, go to hydanscom.

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