It all started in a Philadelphia middle school boys’ bathroom in 1998. Tucker Rinehart and Brendan Cawley spoke in hushed tones. Cawley handed over a neatly wrapped package, and Rinehart forked over some small bills. The two exchanged glances and eagerly opened the package.
The bathroom door flew open. A security guard? A DEA agent? No, a teacher, who busted them in the middle of the deal and hauled them off to the principal’s office. The crime? Dealing beef jerky.
The fact that the 13-year-old Cawley got caught dealing his homemade beef jerky, made with a $30 food dehydrator he bought with birthday money, became schoolground legend. He and his friends elaborated and exaggerated until they became known as the Righteous Felon Jerky Cartel. Throughout their high school years, they became a band of beef-dispensing hoodlums.
Fast forward to post-college in 2012, after a stint preparing financial models for multi-million-dollar airplanes, Cawley returned to his first business venture, bringing on eight partners from his childhood, including his two brothers and, of course, Tucker. These partners in crime were all a little wiser with their college degrees, but a quick glance at their branding makes it clear that none lost that boyish sense of humor and adventure. And they’ve graduated past that $30 dehydrator. Black Angus beef from Maryland’s Roseda Farms is processed in Greentop, MO (for their beef sticks) and Gettysburg, PA (for beef jerky).
Cawley’s no longer dealing in bathrooms—he’s now in dealing in specialty food venues, retailers and hotels. No busts to date.