Plano Jerky puts Porterville on the Map
May 28, 2015 02:38PM
By Brandi Barnett
Well PreservedJune 2015
By Jordan Venema
Photos: Tamara Orth
As a child, Kristi Nanamura was a picky eater, but not when it came to beef jerky. “We’d go to the store and even between candy and jerky, I would choose jerky a lot of the time,” she says. That love for jerky might have inspired Kristi’s father, Frank, to start Plano Jerky. “I joke that Dad started it because I’d eat so much jerky growing up.”
The name Plano Jerky was her mother’s idea. “It’s catchy, because some people remember it as ‘plain old’ jerky,” says Kristi, “and they like that.” But it also pays homage to an old settlement by the same name founded in the Porterville area.
But unlike the Plano settlement, which has gone the way of the buffalo, Plano Jerky has persevered through preservation. The company has been a Porterville fixture since 1979, and residents often approach Kristi and say, “Your dad helped put Porterville on the map.”
When Kristi speaks about her father, she brims with pride – not just for the business he built, but also for his character and the trials he overcame.
The Nanamura family immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s, and in 1931 founded a citrus farm in Lindsay. Then in 1942, the Nanamuras and approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans were interned for the duration of the Second World War. Given the option, Frank enlisted in the military to serve his country.
After the war, the Nanamuras were the first Japanese American family to return to Lindsay. “When they came back,” says Kristi, “their belongings, everything was stolen.”
Like many Japanese Americans of his generation, Frank spoke little about his experiences, but he bore no grudge. “My dad never spoke of any of those things,” says Kristi. “He was a traditional Japanese American, quiet, soft-spoken, and didn’t dwell on the negative experiences.”
Kristi’s uncle Jim did share some of his experiences, about signs reading “no Japs allowed,” and being refused service trying to buy ice cream. The family required police escort just to buy groceries.
Without reparations for the years they’d lost, the Nanamuras persevered. “My dad taught himself to survey the land, plant lemons, later navels,” says Kristi.
By 1979, the family built the farm from ground up, and became successful enough to venture outside farming. “My dad just felt he wanted to try something completely different, and he felt he could produce a better jerky product.”
With his decision, Frank entered a business practically synonymous with Americana. Almost unconsciously, nostalgically, beef jerky conjures images of the Wild West, of cattle-driving cowboys. Even Plano Jerky’s logo, the silhouette of a longhorn, is like an unofficial symbol of Texas. Not surprisingly, customers often think Plano Jerky is from Plano, Texas.
Kristi isn’t surprised. When people think of jerky, she says, “we do think of the Old West or Native Americans, and how they sustained themselves with dried beef.”
But for all this, Plano Jerky is also quintessentially Japanese – and for more than her family’s heritage. That’s because teriyaki, a Japanese cooking technique, has also become synonymous with jerky. Teriyaki has become the most common flavor associated with jerkies – and not just Plano Jerky.
Kristi can’t say for sure that her father set the teriyaki jerky trend. But he certainly didn’t follow it. He adapted his recipe from his mother’s teriyaki. “She had her way of marinating beef and dishes with her teriyaki recipe, and my dad adapted it the way he’d like to marinate jerky.”
Plano sells 10 varieties of jerky – from mild to spicy with pepper, chili, garlic or teriyaki – but underlying all their recipes is a quality jerky, natural, without preservatives.
But teriyaki will always be Plano’s signature jerky, a blend of Japanese and American cultures, much like the Nanamuras themselves. And since teriyaki has become a signature for other jerky companies, that might explain why the Nanamuras have been so successful in business.
Though they operate out of a small processing plant, Plano Jerky sells nationally, even internationally through online orders, which they’ve offered since 1999. They’ve also diversified by selling local products and gift baskets alongside their jerky, both online and in their retail store.
After Frank’s death in 1996, Kristi jumped headlong into the jerky business. For the jerky-loving child in her, running a jerky business is something of a dream come true; as an adult, it’s been a source of immeasurable pride. Like the product they sell, Japanese Americans proved remarkably tough. Kristi uses the word perseverance to describe her father and his generation. “I’m very proud of my heritage, and what (my family) accomplished and how they went about it. I’m just so proud, and I hope I can be even half of what they were.”
Plano Jerky • 687 South Plano St., Porterville
(559) 781-3487 • www.planojerky.com
Monday-Friday 8 am-6 pm, Saturday 9 am-5 pm