When Alice Glover started cooking and selling pork rinds on the waterfront a dozen years ago, she naturally couldn’t have guessed she one day would have a USDA certified meat processing operation in her home.
“After I retired, I realized I had been looking out for people’s needs instead of planning my retirement,” she said. “I thought, ‘What am I going to do with my time’?”
She had talked to her brother a couple of years earlier at a family reunion and he told her what a hit pork rinds were as a snack in the South. So, she figured she would give it a try. After all, Kentucky is part of the South, right?
But Glover decided to do it the right way; she did research and created a business plan. She did market research within the state to see what competition existed, and she learned the closest pork rind manufacturers were in Indiana and Illinois.
That was 2002. And this week at the Kentucky State Fair, if you visit the Kentucky Proud tent, you’ll find Glover selling her signature pork rinds, gumbo, shrimp and grits, chicken chili and more. It will mark her 10th year as a fair vendor. And, as noted, she never could have foreseen it.
“Oh no,” she says, and laughs about the question. “No, not really.”
In fact, when she first started selling her products at the fair, all she did was pork rinds. She decided to expand partly because her son talked her into entering her chicken chili in the Phoenix Hill Chili Cook-off – it finished second – and partly because she realized pork rinds are a better fit for a convenience store, grocery store or liquor store than a state fair.
“There’s so much competition,” she says. “Snacks are kind of an impulse thing. It’s kind of hard to compete with a turkey drum.”
Her timing with the pork rinds was spot on, however. They were beginning to get popular as a snack because it was during the time of the Atkins Diet craze – pork rinds don’t have any carbs. Glover is soft spoken and sweet, but she isn’t shy. She approached the Waterfront Development Corp. to get permission to cook and sell her snacks at the waterfront. Permission received, she got herself a mobile fryer and went to it. And they sold well. But she soon realized there were limitations.
“When the weather got cold and the wind was blowing, I couldn’t keep my oil hot enough,” Glover says. And when winter hit, the customers stayed home. The problem was, she had bags and bags of pork rinds: “I was wondering, ‘What in the world am I going to do with this inventory?’ It came to me: ‘Alice, you need to cook ’em, bag ’em and sell ’em.”
And so she decided to become a USDA-certified meat processor and launch JITA Snacks LLC, named using the first letters in the names of her four grandchildren (Jaydah, Isaiah, Timothy and Alicia). She gradually used inventory sales to pay for equipment, and built a full-on processing plant of sorts in her garage and utility room, piece by piece. Now, that said, she’s not butchering pigs in her kitchen – she buys the frozen pig skin pieces, or “pellets,” pre-processed. In her 450-square-foot “plant,” she then finishes cooking them, seasons them and bags them for sale.
But she says they have a flavor reminiscent of bacon – a sure sales advantage over most snacks – and they come in six flavors: BBQ, Cheddar Cheese, Sweet & Hot, Fire Hot, Salt & Vinegar and Original. And as they are cooked in smaller batches in higher-quality oil, they are much softer and more flavorful than the stuff produced at mega-plants.
Meanwhile, her soups and other treats have become big hits as well, such as watermelon cups and various exotic teas (one is a mint julep tea).
I got a sampling of her wares recently and was taken aback by the shrimp and grits. That would be my first recommendation if you’re going to the fair and don’t like elephant ears and corn dogs. But the award-winning chicken chili is not far behind, and the gumbo is a solid choice as well. You can find her setting up her stand at various spots around town, like Apocalypse Brew Works and other locations where street food vendors and food trucks gather.
Heck, she may still be doing it another 10 years from now. Her son has moved on to other things, but she’s still cranking out 2,500 bags of pork rinds per month with the help of her grandchildren and selling them at places like Liquor Barn and various convenience stores and grocery stores.
And, of course, there’s the delicious shrimp and grits. When I ask if she thought her chili and other hot products are better bets at the fair this year than Krispy Kreme donut cheeseburgers or the new deep fried hot brown on a stick, she chuckles.
But, ever the businesswoman, she quickly gets serious, noting that her customers at the fair refer to her wares as “non-traditional fare food.” Hey, it’s a Southern thing.
“Deep fried hot brown on a stick?” she says. “I know it’s better than that.”
She laughs again. “It just has to get the recognition, that’s all.”