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Innovation: Crowdfunding Effort Helps Steak Locker Creator Make the Cut

East Village resident Nadia Bruno and her friends had a hunch — or maybe it was a haunch — that their culinary idea might appeal to the consumer market.

Their idea was to make a specialized refrigerator to be used exclusively for dry-aging steaks.

Their result is the Steak Locker, a stainless steel and glass unit about the size of an under-counter wine refrigerator. With it, food enthusiasts can take subprime cuts of meat and age them in the locker for 21 days or more to make them tender and improve flavor. It’s a way to save money, the business said — up to 50 to 70 percent of the cost of retail dry-aged steaks — which is especially appealing in a year of escalating beef prices.

They turned to Kickstarter, and the Internet crowdfunding site quickly showed them their intuition was right. By the time their three-week campaign closed July 8, Bruno Investments LLC received $191,000 in pledges, almost three times the amount the company sought.

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So far the company has two prototype Steak Lockers and has about 350 orders. The business has started a second fundraising campaign on the Indiegogo crowd funding site, hoping to raise another $25,000 and generate more orders.

The business has priced its appliance at $555 to $675 on the crowdfunding sites, and plans to charge $899 for direct sales through the Steak Locker website.

A contract manufacturer in Zhongshan, a Chinese city near Macau, will put together the products. It will not be too much of a stretch for the factory, since it produces wine refrigerators for customers in 30 countries. Bruno Investments considered contract manufacturers in Tijuana and the United States, but in the end, Bruno said her team felt China had the best combination of quality and price.

Getting Technology Down Cold

The Steak Locker contains special technology for food safety, said Claus Schmitz, one of the food industry professionals working with Bruno on the project.

There is a fan that forces air through the refrigerator at 5 mph to keep bacteria from settling on the meat’s surface. Steak Locker also includes germicidal ultraviolet light, which keeps bacteria from replicating. The refrigerator contains a powerful compressor to keep the meat just above the freezing

point.

The appliance communicates with the Internet, with the Steak Locker smartphone app able to tell a user whether temperature and humidity are within the right limits. Also, the app can warn the user if those limits are exceeded.

And if humidity gets too low, the refrigerator has a water reservoir to add moisture to the air. The company has a patent pending on the hygrometer, or humidity gauge. Humidity can be a problem when dry-aging steak in a conventional refrigerator, company marketing materials said.

The Kickstarter funding and the anticipated funding from Indiegogo mean the company will be able to finish work on its Bluetooth-enabled app, Bruno said. Steak Locker is envisioned as another appliance that will be part of the Internet of Things.

Inspiration for the appliance came from Bruno’s experience opening a steakhouse in downtown St. Louis in 2011. She was marketing manager on the project, which featured a glass display refrigerator that showed steaks being dry aged among Himalayan salt blocks.

Like most crowdfunding efforts, Bruno Investments’ campaign offers a menu of rewards.

It promised salt blocks as a reward for investors who contribute $25. Investors putting in at least $575 on Indiegogo can get a refrigerator. Benefactors giving $5,000 or more get a catered steak party on July 4, 2015, in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago or New York — plus a steak fridge.

No one has taken the $5,000 package, but it’s still available. And if the party does happen, Bruno said, it ought to be a great marketing opportunity.

BRUNO INVESTMENTS LLC

CEO: Nadia Bruno

Revenue: Pre-revenue

No. of local employees: One, plus contractors

Investors: Nadia Bruno, Kickstarter investors

Headquarters: East Village

Year founded: 2013

What makes the company innovative: Offers the world’s first in-home dry-aging steak refrigerator with patent-pending technology

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