Mother's Day: A Note from CEO, Jason Burke

I have a confession. I like the shadows. I prefer to operate behind the scenes. I founded a brand more than a decade ago - a company that now has national distribution at many of the largest grocery chains in the US, and I struggle every day with imposter syndrome. I could’ve never dreamt of the progress and impact we’ve made so far. I thought I could stand in the shadows, highlight a company with authentic values and superior offerings, and keep my “why” and personality out of it. I’ve admittedly done an abysmal job of explaining why we exist. Recently, after I reconnected with an old friend, I was reminded that a story I once told about my mom is the single-most thing he remembers when he thinks about my brand. So, I thought it was appropriate to come out of the background and share it in the hopes it might positively impact someone else. 

First, we need to set one thing straight. My mom was the best cook. There’s no debate. In her teenage years, she went to work for an Italian family in their restaurant. She learned Italian heirloom recipes. She grew up in a half-Cuban household where she learned authentic Hispanic dishes passed down for generations. From her mother, she learned traditional southern cooking techniques. Whenever I would observe her cooking, she never measured anything and never looked at a recipe card. The meals - always incredible. 

In 2009, she was diagnosed with cancer. And then shortly after that, my dad with heart disease. When the doctors informed me both were diet, stress, and lifestyle diseases, I embarked on my own journey toward health and wellness. I learned about the importance of nutrition and how a few intentional decisions could make a significant difference.

Just before my mom’s diagnosis, I moved to Charleston, South Carolina. The burgeoning foodie mecca proved a decent sub (but never a replacement) for Mama Burke’s Cuban-influenced recipes. The vending machine at work, however, was a different story. Health-minded but ever-carnivorous, I started making homemade beef jerky – with grass-fed beef, simple spices, and a countertop dehydrator – to keep in my desk drawer. Officemates and friends took notice (by sight and by smell), and when a handful of favors turned into dozens of orders, the seeds of a bona fide start-up were planted. The New Primal launched in 2012, and in short order, the meat-eating masses were devouring our humanely-sourced, insanely-good jerky.

There’s a big messy middle, and I’ll spare you (for now). 

In January 2018, after a long battle, we lost my mom. One of the things I learned about cancer is that it does not discriminate. You all know this; every person reading here has been affected by this ubiquitous plague. But to sit in those (around-the-clock) radiation and chemotherapy clinics, you witness peers of the human race having a hard time. No one much notices your background, your sexual orientation, or the color of your skin. Instead, a common empathy flows through the halls and treatment rooms, creating an unexpected but comforting little community that reaches across races, generations, and belief systems.

In ways I could and could not have predicted, her passing has profoundly affected my life. Most unexpectedly, it has changed the arc of The New Primal's journey and business trajectory. 

Growing up, my home was THE gathering place. This had nothing to do with the size of the house (it was tiny) and everything to do with its aroma. My mom cooked for the neighborhood - literally - and everyone always felt at home and welcome under our roof. She was the go-to for cooking for milestone events: graduations, birthdays, weddings, and even funerals. It was customary to have extended family and, at times, scores of neighbors drop by for dinner. When I found myself delivering the eulogy to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of the kind community pillar at the center of these meals, I asked anyone for whom my mother had ever cooked a meal to stand. Unsurprised, but with my knees trembling, I watched as every single one of the more than 300 guests rose to their feet. At that profound and undeniable moment, I recommitted myself to honor and carry on the impact she had on so many lives.

Now that I’m older, I realize this impact extended well beyond the plate and the palate. At my house, everyone felt at home. Amid the chaos of a full house and the revolving door of guests, there was an overarching peace in that little home. Now I know why. Sure my mom was always cooking, and people would show up for her fantastic food. But once there, they’d also share their experiences, opinions, ideas, and sorrows. They’d laugh together and cry together. My mother had created a space for folks to find connection and community. And simply put, the dinner table facilitated that relationship. I believe communion among humans is necessary and critical for our mental health and authentic happiness. A table is a place where we can break down barriers. It’s where life’s most valuable lessons are learned. So it doesn’t hurt if these conversations are fostered by the passing of delicious meats and veggies.

A few years ago, we introduced you to Noble Made, our line of versatile sauces that are pouring with mouth-watering abandon into crockpots, cast iron skillets, and condiment caddies – and conspicuously encouraging little food “communities.” In the same way, we filled a void with our meat snacks, our launch of Noble Made aimed to replace the condiments we couldn’t feel good about serving our families. By offering crave-able, healthy sauces, seasonings, and marinades, we’ve taken a stand against harmful convenience in favor of healthy simplicity.

My journey at The New Primal began with healthy snacking rooted in animal welfare and clean ingredients. It has expanded into bringing people back together around the table. Honestly, I never saw it coming. But it makes perfect sense. Just as I believed creating ways to make healthy eating easy and delicious would inspire healthier snacking, so can it inspire a return to the table. It's a noble calling and one my mom would be proud of. I invite you to join me.