Living

The miraculous story behind Columbia-based Two Brothers Jerky

By Janet Jones Kendall

jjkendall@thestate.com

Paul Brock, left, and Eddie Wales, owners of Two Brothers Jerky, were adopted by different families and found each other years later. “He knew and I knew as soon as we saw each other that we were brothers,” Brock said.
Paul Brock, left, and Eddie Wales, owners of Two Brothers Jerky, were adopted by different families and found each other years later. “He knew and I knew as soon as we saw each other that we were brothers,” Brock said. Provided photo

This could be a big year for Eddie Wales and his brother and business partner, Paul Brock. 

It most likely will be the year that Wales, owner of popular Vista restaurant Motor Supply Co. Bistro, and Brock, a Durham, N.C. family attorney, see their beef jerky business take off. In February, the two will roll out new packaging for Two Brothers Jerky – with plans to expand their products’ sales in cities across North Carolina and South Carolina and perhaps beyond.

Theirs is a small, family-owned business. While such businesses often tend to have interesting back stories, the existence of Two Brothers Jerky is something of a miracle: Until seven years ago, neither Wales nor Brock had any idea the other existed.

A phone call to remember

In 2010, Wales owned Motor Supply and Grille in Forest Acres. While he was working at Tombo one night, his wife called, insisting that he return the call of a man named Paul Brock. Brock had called the couple’s home but wouldn’t leave a detailed message, stating the call was of a personal nature.

“She looked him up online and saw that he was a family attorney in North Carolina and she kind of jokingly wondered if I had a child out there or something that she didn’t know about,” Wales said with a laugh. “I told her I had no idea who he was and that I was sure it was someone trying to sell me something.”

Wales was busy and didn’t want to make the call. However, because of his wife’s insistence, he did – and received the surprise of a lifetime.

“He just immediately laid it all out there for me and said, ‘I’m your brother,’” Wales recalled.

Wales had always known he was adopted through a Charlotte, N.C., adoption agency in 1965 by a young, newly married Pennsylvania couple who discovered they could have no children of their own. Wales’ parents were always open with him about his adoption during his childhood growing up in Salisbury, N.C., and then Spartanburg. Wales, in fact, remembers going to pick up his adopted sister when he was a young boy.

“I never planned on going out and looking for my natural parents,” Wales said. “I had a very happy childhood, great, wonderful parents, so even though I knew I was adopted, I wasn’t curious enough to go out and explore and the few times I did think about it I was afraid of what I might find.”

What Wales and none of his adoptive family knew, however, was that he had a brother – not a half brother but a full brother born only 14 months after him and who was also given up for adoption at the same Charlotte agency.

On the phone that night in the office of his restaurant, Wales was hearing the story for the first time, from his brother.

“He laid the story out for me and I never doubted it. He went through and told the whole story about our mom and that he was adopted out of the same place. I was on the phone with him for a while,” Wales said. “He just explained what was going on and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. This is unbelievable.’ He told me where I was born, where we were adopted out of. I guess some folks might be like, ‘There’s no way this is true’ but I just knew he was telling the truth – there was no reason for someone to call me up and start lying about something like that. I mean I just believed him right off the bat.”

Brock, too, had a happy childhood growing up in Asheville, and was adopted by a couple who thought they could have no children of their own. But later on they had two sons naturally. But Brock was always curious about his birth mother and, through the prompting of his now late wife, Karen, in 2006 he hired Kin Finders Group to help find his mother.

Within a year, the company did find her: a former pediatric nurse living outside Atlanta who was married and had three grown children.

“When I called her I followed a script they gave me to help me through it,” Brock said. 

Brock told the woman at the other end of the line his name and where and when he was born.

“For a second there was complete silence on the other end,” Brock said. “Then she told me she did want to talk to me but asked if she could call me back the following day.”

Brock later found out his mother needed the time to contact her three children and share the news with them, the news she wondered if she would ever share with anyone other than her husband.

Before long, Brock drove from North Carolina to Atlanta, where he met his mom, her husband and the couple’s three children – Brock’s half brothers – all of whom welcomed him with open arms. It was then that he got another surprise. 

“She told me that I had a brother – a full brother – out there somewhere,” Brock said.

As it turned out, 14 months before giving birth to Brock at the age of 15, his mother had given birth to another son who had the same father.

Brock didn’t pursue finding his brother immediately but he did foster his relationship with his birth mother and her family. They became part of some major events in each others’ lives: his birth mother and half brothers attended his wedding to Karen, then her funeral after she died from ovarian cancer just two years later; he, in turn, attended two of the brothers’ weddings (during one of which his daughter served as a bridesmaid). They went on family vacations together.

Finally, three years later, Brock followed through on the urging of his late wife and his daughter and reached out to Wales. He, too, well remembers that first phone call.

“We talked on the phone that night for probably two hours,” Brock said.

And, of course, he remembers their first meeting, which took place in Columbia soon thereafter. 

“Eddie and I were close almost instantly,” Brock said. “He knew and I knew as soon as we saw each other that we were brothers. A DNA test wasn’t necessary.”

Wales took some time to adjust to having a brother before he, too, reached out to his mother in Georgia.

“It was kind of this surreal experience,” Wales said, adding that the event was a positive one but stressful – so much so that he broke out with shingles two days later.

Brotherly love

“Sometimes I go a while without telling this story,” Wales said, “and I tell it to someone who has no idea or someone who knew me from back before and I’ll casually remark, ‘My brother’ and they say, ‘You don’t have a brother’ and I say, ‘Well yes I do, actually. I’ve got four now.’”

Though in their early 40s when they met, Wales and Brock found out they had some pretty amazing similarities.

For one thing, each owned his own restaurant – Wales making it a full-time career and Brock partnering with friends to open a Durham restaurant that he closed a few years ago. In addition, the two found out they both started college as criminal justice majors – Wales eventually changed to psychology but Brock graduated with the degree. Both were sports nuts – Brock a Redskins and University of North Carolina fan, Wales a Steelers and University of South Carolina fan. Both had a love for music.

“I’m taller than he is but he’s got all his hair and I’ve lost all mine so we joke about that,” Wales said. “There’s a lot of similarities but one thing that is totally different is how we talk. He’s got this mountain twang from growing up in the mountains, and even though I probably had more of a Southern accent when I was a kid growing up, I went to college and started hanging out with guys from New Jersey and all around so I feel like mine kind of evened out. ... Otherwise we look a lot alike in our pictures growing up and we have some of the same mannerisms.”

Soon after their initial meeting, the two brothers, and each of their three children, were making regular visits to each other’s homes and having full family vacations that included their birth mother, her husband and their three half brothers.

The jerky business

While Two Brothers Jerky got started just a couple of years ago, the process of making beef jerky was not a new one for Brock.

“Gosh, I’ve been making it since I was 20 and I’m 50 now,” Brock said. “It’s an old family recipe.”

After getting a taste of it himself, Wales asked Brock for the recipe.

“He said, ‘I don’t give this to anyone but I’ll give it to you.’ It was just so much better than the stuff in the stores,” Wales said. “I decided I wanted to make some myself so my wife bought me a tabletop dehydrator for Christmas that year.” 

Not too long after that, the brothers and their families – birth family included – sampled the jerky during a weekend together.

“They kept telling us it was great and that we should package and sell it,” Wales said.

But it wasn’t until another trip together, and a late night that included “probably a few too many beers,” that the two actually decided to give the business idea a shot.

At first, they two made and sold the jerky in their respective restaurants. The product was so well-received that the two decided to sell it at markets and small gourmet shops, which meant finding a USDA-approved facility in which to make it. 

From the beginning, creating a quality, gourmet-like product was important to the two brothers, who initially made the jerky with USDA choice top round purchased at Sam’s Club. However, they soon realized they wanted to make the product even better.

“Being in this business and this restaurant in particular, I recognize the significance of no hormones and sustainability,” said Wales, whose Motor Supply restaurant is known for its chef-driven, farm-to-table concept. “We started getting grass-fed steaks in here and we realized how much better they were, how much more humanely the cows were treated, so we decided to make the move to all-natural, organic, grass-fed beef.”

That’s when Wales and Brock partnered with Hickory Nut Gap Farm in Fairview, N.C.

“They are a small family farm just above Asheville that’s gone back turn of the century,” Wales said. “Their beef is richer and the cows are smaller because they’re not pumped full of hormones and they’re 100 percent grass fed start to finish. ... It’s a little more expensive but we feel good about the cattle and how they are treated and the taste of the beef is just better.”

In addition to Motor Supply, Two Brothers Jerky is currently sold at several markets and shops in Columbia and in about 10 stores throughout Durham and Cary, N.C. The product is also sold in three locations in western North Carolina: The Hub biking/hiking/brewpub in Brevard, the Hendersonville Welcome Center and at Hickory Nut Farms’ own store.

Until now, the jerky has been sold in 3-ounce packages for around $12 per package. Brock and Wales found, however, that, “folks have a $10 snack barrier price” that they’re willing to pay so they have repackaged the product to a 2.2-ounce size and repriced it at around $8 to $9 per package.

“We’re going to do a massive push on retailers in North and South Carolina in early February,” Wales said. “We’re on the edge of getting into 10 more places in the Asheville area. That’s where we’re going to hit it hard next.”

After that, Wales and Brock will target Greenville, Charlotte and Charleston, increase availability in Columbia and Durham, and increase internet sales, too.

“We’re going to go from there and make it the best North and South Carolina jerky there is,” Wales said. “We’ve been kind of in a holding pattern getting ready for this. We just want to be a good regional company and what happens after that, we’ll see.”

But for both Wales and Brock, the best part of the business is doing it together.

“We’re super close now and I think we would be anyway, but it accelerated the process and made us even closer because we’re on the phone talking about this company every day,” Wales said.

Although the two do admit a lot of similarities, there are differences, too, Brock said. But those also work to make their relationship – and their company – stronger.

“He and I have some complementary strengths and weaknesses where we fill in for each other,” Brock said. “He’s really detail-oriented and I’m more of the big picture guy. With his experience and background he’s just got a real sense of it. I’m kind of a writer by nature so if it relates to marketing or social media I take care of that.”

In spite of the amazing story behind the scenes, the product has to be what draws the customers, Brock said.

“This wouldn’t be a good business if we didn’t make great beef jerky. There’s no amount of story that can make up for your product,” Brock said. “But on the other hand, we probably wouldn’t be doing this if there wasn’t the opportunity to do something together as brothers. And as we grow I anticipate us doing even more. I anticipate this growing and being something potentially our kids and other brothers are involved in.”

Full circle

In addition to placing significance on providing a quality product, Brock and Wales also want their company to have quality meaning through community support. But the brothers didn’t choose a random charity or project to support.

“We’ve partnered with Children’s Home Society of North Carolina where we were both adopted,” Wales said.

This year, Two Brothers has pledged a donation to CHS and is sponsoring one of the agency’s fundraisers on March 27 in Durham at which they will also both volunteer. The two also plan to use their Two Brothers Jerky website as a way for customers and others to promote stories of finding each other,

“Whether it be an adoption story or just connections that people have made,” Wales said. “Our slogan is, ‘Jerky that brings people together.’ We’re really hoping that, in some way, perhaps it can.”

Finding Two Brothers Jerky

In Columbia: Motor Supply Co. Bistro, 920 Gervais St.; Crave Artisan Market, 2843 Millwood Ave.; Craft and Draft, 2706 Devine St.; Fusco's Market, 2900 Dreher Shoals Road; The Cotton Mill Exchange, S.C. State Museum, 301 Gervais St.; Nest gift shop, 1450 Main St.

On the web: www.twobrothersjerky.com

The flavors

Bull City Original: Named for Durham (the Bull City), the original jerky is made with soy, garlic, lime, a touch of red pepper and real hickory smoke (not liquid) which is pumped into the dehydrator.

Famously Hot: Made with crushed red pepper, chili, lime and garlic. "It has sort of an afterburn," Wales said. "It's not super hot but it's not wimpy either."

Sweet Ginger Teriyaki: Made with juice from fresh ginger (no powders here), brown sugar and gluten-free soy.

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