Entrepreneurs hope miners' meal of yore will yield a modern fast-food fortune


Italian coal miners used to take a loaf of bread and a pepperoni stick along when they descended into the earth in West Virginia. They knew a thing or two about what makes for tasty, hearty snacking, says Gene Minor, a West Virginia native.

Mr. Minor and his friend Don Vail have created their version of the miners' snack -- the "PC Bun," pepperoni and cheese encased in fresh dough -- and will soon sell it in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

The PC Bun is the chief product of DJ's Bakery, which will move at the end of the month into new headquarters in the Forest Hill Airport Industrial Airpark, from the Jarrett Building in Jarrettsville.

Mr. Minor and Mr. Vail, a Pennsylvania native, started the business two years ago. They met in 1967 while working for Equitable Life Insurance in Morgantown, W.Va., and formed Harford Financial Resources Inc., an independent Jarrettsville insurance company, in 1989.

They soon traded the insurance business for something both found more palatable: making and marketing the PC Bun.

In the West Virginia towns of Morgantown, Fairmount and Clarksburg, says Mr. Minor, people have savored pepperoni-and-cheese buns for years. He credits the miners of old with inspiring their simple snack's successor. "They would take a bite of bread and a bite of the pepperoni until each was devoured," says Mr. Minor.

"Then some enterprising baker decided to include the pepperoni while baking the bread. It became popular, and bakers throughout the region were soon meeting the demands of other miners."

Mr. Minor and Mr. Vail gathered many old cookbooks and performed many experiments in Mr. Vail's kitchen to find the perfect dough.

"We actually burned up two mixers before settling on a recipe," Mr. Minor said. "It was so hectic in that kitchen that at one point Don's wife, Carol, asked, 'When are you dumb jerks going to be finished?' " That question gave us the name of the company -- DJ's [dumb jerks] Bakery."

Then came the real test. They personally delivered free samples to businesses throughout Harford County -- along with survey slips. "All came back positive," said Mr. Minor. "We then began taking the product to food shows and received similar responses."

After two years of baking the hand-rolled buns in the cramped confines of a building in Jarrettsville, the company is looking forward to its move to Forest Hill. The 10,000-square-foot, $400,000 facility will allow the company to increase its daily production to 2,000 dozen.

Six distributors haul the buns to convenience stores and supermarkets as far away as Altoona, Pa. The buns, which can be eaten at room temperature or heated in a conventional or microwave oven, are delivered frozen and are already selling at 7-Eleven stores, Valu Food stores and Pace Clubs. The buns also are sold in several private schools, and recently the Harford school board told the company the bun contained enough nutritional value that it could be sold throughout the school system.

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