July 26th, 2008
Cherry wood smoked beef jerky made at the base of the Uinta Mountains fulfills the dreams of Samak Smokehouse owners Jen and Dave.
|Samak Smoke House stand|
At the base of the beautiful Uintas Mountains is Kamas, Utah. Pine trees and the Beaver Creek River create a stunning setting for travelers to get away from the city for a wilderness retreat. This is where Jen Hisey and David Witham moved to raise their family and set up their country store and the Samak Smokehouse.
Their mom and pop shop rents canoes, sells homemade cookies, homemade energy bars and biscotti. But their most famous products are their smoked meats: smoked salmon, smoked trout, smoked buffalo and deer jerky of all different flavors and spices. Their store is very friendly. Their four-year-old daughter Jenevieve, is sitting on the front counter watching transactions and talking to Kat, their summer helper. Their two-year-old son Charlie is working on his walking skills, while Lu, their boarder collie, greets us, tail wagging and panting. Jen tells me Lu is the official store greeter.
I introduce myself to Jen and she points out their product offerings and leads me to the smokehouse. The buildings Samak operates out of are all very tidy and well kept. The smokehouse is no exception. The smokehouse is not what a customer of a country store might imagine. Inside is a large 20' x 20' building with stainless steel counter tops. A giant stainless steel convection smoker is connected to a steel container full of cherry wood chips. Cherry wood smoke is circulated in the smoker during the process. Apparently the cherry wood chips from Wisconsin are burned while the meat is drying.
This process provides both the wonderful infusion of the smoke and meets the highest standards of USDA conditions for meat processing. In fact the operation is so sanitary, Jen says, "We have been ranked as one of the cleanest and up-to-date smoking and drying facilities in the state." Additionally their sanitary smoking method allows them to compete with the larger brand names found in grocery stores.
When I tell Jen I'd be interested in seeing the process, she tells me I would have to get into the special garb they wear when they cook. Jen says that health inspectors drop by unannounced all the time and they always follow the inspection code to a T. By the looks of their mom and pop operation it must have been a very hefty price tag to set up such a state-of-the-art smoking operation. Jen and Dave bought the smoked meat business from the former owner who had developed the recipes and refined the operation for the past 25 years. The original owner started making the jerky "the old fashioned way". Jen says the only thing that has changed is that now we are working in a USDA approved manner. Today, after three years of blood sweat and tears, Jen says the business is just becoming profitable.
"We are getting a lot of repeat customers and they come out here for the experience. We don't do any advertising. It's literally word of mouth." Samak Smokehouse offers their products in both the Park City and Salt Lake City Farmers Markets. They say that both are profitable to the same degree and both venues are very receptive to their product line. This is their second year at the Downtown Farmers Market and they say that their revenue and sales have so far met their expectations.
Jen is from Michigan and Dave is from Washington. Both are Utah emigrants, who came to Park City to ski. Later, they became enamored with the Unitah Mountains and fulfilled the dream of having those mountains in their back yard.
|Jen Hisey at the Country Store in Samak, Utah|
So why did they choose the name Samak? Actually, the town they are located in, just outside of Kamas goes by the name Samak. Their tiny mountain-side community has 161 people and they wanted to differentiate themselves from Kamas. Maybe if Park City is the Independent Republic of Utah (as they like to be called). Samak is the Independent Republic of Kamas.
According to a Utah travel guide: "the residents of this small Samak cabin community were not necessarily making a statement with this idea but simply found it interesting and logical and the name was adopted. In the 1860 the land was used for hunting, grazing and farming."
Besides the operation of their country store and the Farmers Market stand, Jen and Dave also sell gift baskets at Christmas. In addition they have recently begun hosting evening barbecues. They grind fresh meat and seasonings that is typically used for their beef jerky into gourmet hamburgers.
Next time you are at the Farmers Market sample some Samak smoked meats. Also on your next trip to the Uintas be sure to stop by the country store around dinner time for a gourmet hamburger.
from Joan Stebbins: I've been to the Samak Country Store and the jerky is the best I have ever tasted!! Also, everyone needs to try their Gondola Granola...it's out of this world!