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Jay’s Beef: A Homegrown Chicago Institution Made Possible With California Garlic

  Jay’s Beef is a family-owned and operated restaurant based in Chicago, Illinois, offering Italian beef sandwiches in a no-fuss setting for more than four decades. 

 “Our recipe hasn’t changed in 30 years, and it fuels me to keep going because people keep coming. I should be retired by now, but I never did. I go out there and wipe a table down, talk to people, and they’ll say, ‘It tastes like it always did.’ That’s the best feeling in the world.” - Jay, Jay’s Beef 

KEY METRICS

50 lbs

box size of California garlic Jay’s Beef uses every six weeks 

1,600 lbs

of roasted meat sold per week

3

locations in Chicago

30 years

 since Jay’s beef recipe has changed

BACKGROUND:

For over forty years, Jay Fortuna has been searing 200 to 300 pounds of Italian beef every day — and sometimes double on the weekends. He started when he was 19 in the kitchen that belonged to his mom’s side of the family. Now he’s 62 and proud to say that while life has changed outside of the restaurant, what’s happening in the kitchen hasn’t shifted much at all.

 

Each piece of Jay’s beef — whether it’s destined for sandwiches in-house or purchased by the pound — is slow-cooked for four hours, and then brought out and seasoned in a medley of spices: salt, pepper, oregano, garlic powder. The most important spice for Jay’s unmistakable flavor? The garlic. 

 

“We make our own meat and we make our own hot peppers, and we understand how important ingredients are,” says Jay. “When it comes to my garlic, you just don’t understand — I gotta have it!” 

CHALLENGES:

In 2016, everything changed when it came to the garlic supply. Jay’s regular supplier no longer had his favorite garlic powder and that spelled disaster for his business. “When I went to get my garlic supply in Chicago, it wasn’t available,” says Jay. “That’s when things started going haywire.” 

With no more supply in his market, Jay started exploring his options. One of the options everyone kept pushing him toward was Chinese garlic — but he could taste the difference and knew his customers would, too. 

“I’ve done a little bit of research and you really don’t want Chinese garlic powder in your product,” says Jay. “What their laws are, what they do, for example, they dye their garlic to make it white, and that’s scary. People tell me you can’t tell the difference when you smell it. But try cooking with it. You can definitely tell the difference then.” 

SOLUTION:

That’s when a supplier suggested Olam’s California garlic powder. Domestic and available in his order size, Jay tasted the difference and liked that he could get his order regularly. 

“I thought I was done honestly,” says Jay. “We got to the point where we were going to have to switch to Chinese. I said to myself, I really don’t know what I’m going to do, I’m not the kind of guy that orders 100,000 pounds of garlic. But Olam met me where I’m at, and now I refuse to use anything else.” 

FUTURE:

Moving forward, Jay hopes to keep things exactly as they are — tasting good and garlicky  — with clients that keep coming back for more. 

“My version of marketing is buying a customer a sandwich or a drink. Why do I do that? Because I want you to come back, and I know the best way to do that is to give you a taste of our Italian beef. With Olam, it tastes the same as it ever did, and that’s really, really good.”

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