A Bone to Drink: Kettle & Fire Founder Shares the Story Behind the First USDA Grass-Fed Bone Broth

It was about a year ago, when Nick and Justin Mares found their hunt for an easy-to-buy, organic, grass-fed bone broth pretty fruitless, that the brothers decided to take matters into their own hands. With an already strong passion for health – and a considerably strong passion for broth – the Mares brothers came up with the idea to fill the gap that they had pinpointed in the bone broth market with their own product – one that would be totally organic, 100% grass-fed, and entirely shelf stable. That’s where Kettle & Fire comes in. Here, Justin Mares shares the story of how he and his brother, who came into this project with basically no experience in building a physical product like this, brought their vision to life and are changing the health landscape through broth.

Kettle & Fire Bone broth founders, brothers Nick and Justin Mares
Kettle & Fire

How did idea to start Kettle & Fire come about?

I started it with my brother, Nick, a little over a year ago now. I was basically looking for a more convenient way to incorporate bone broth into my diet because I wanted to use it for all of the healing and functional benefits. But I was also traveling all the time and I’m, quite frankly, a terrible cook, so I didn’t really have time to cook bones for 24 hours and source bones from only 100% grass-fed animals and all that good stuff, you know. Then, around the same time, my brother suffered a really bad knee injury playing soccer. He was bedridden for seven weeks after surgery and he was really looking for foods that could help accelerate the healing process. I went to buy him bone broth and saw that literally nobody was selling it online. So it all started to come together and that’s kind of when we decided, “Okay, let’s see if we can make the first shelf-stable bone broth product out there.” Since then it’s just been off to the races!

What was the process like of actually getting the product off the ground? 

Oh, so hard! Neither of us had done this before, in terms of creating a physical product like this. So it was really difficult. We had to call over 300 different co-packers just to find one that would actually work with us, we had to work with the FDA to get a USDA-approved product. There were just a bunch of things like that were quite challenging, especially for a couple of guys who didn’t really know what they were doing at first.

That’s so tough! I’m sure it was good for you and your brother to have each other as a support system throughout the process though, right? 

Yeah, it’s been really cool; really, really fun!

How did you guys come up with the bone broth recipe that you use? 

We worked with a former competitor on Iron Chef, actually, and we used a combination of his input and some of the more traditional recipes that had been floating around in our family and online, from the paleo and health leaders that we respected. We basically sampled a bunch and settled on what we thought (and still think) is the best one.

Kettle and fire bone broth with carrots and onion on wooden surface with marble background.
Kettle & Fire

One of the most important things to you guys has always been the quality of the bone that you guys use for the broth, right? Can you tell me a bit more about that? 

We only use bones from cattle that have been organically raised and that are 100% grass-fed. We’ve just seen so much research around the benefits of grass-fed and it’s something that people really, really care about. So, especially with a product like bone broth where the bones are actually breaking down and the marrow is cut and exposed so it can seep into the broth itself, we wanted to make sure that the marrow – which is where a lot of the toxins can accrue if you’re eating marrow from a factory-farmed animal – was only from cattle raised with the highest quality and standards. We just don’t want to have any sort of toxins or other gross stuff in our broth.

Our goal is to bring bone broth back into the American diet. - Justin Mares of Kettle & Fire

What about the packaging? Was that a tough process because of your goal to make something with a long shelf life? 

Yeah, the packaging was a big a challenge. We basically used $6 million-worth of packaging equipment, and we pack the broth in a way that it doesn’t go bad without any additives or preservatives. How we do that is we package it under what’s called a vacuum, so there’s basically no air in the box until you open it. That means that there’s really nothing that the broth can react with that will cause it to go bad.

That’s so cool. And this is really the first broth of its kind for that reason, right? 

Yeah, we are the first shelf-stable beef bone broth, and now we’re moving into other products and things like that. Like we have a chicken broth now, too. And some of the other guys who will say they’re shelf-stable are not real bone broth. So they might be shelf-stable, but they won’t gel when you put them in the fridge or something like that – it’s just not the good stuff.

Bone broth with celery and in a mug.
Kettle & Fire

What would you say has been one of the most surprising things about this whole journey for you?

One thing that really took me by surprise is that when we started selling the product, I thought that most people would buy the bone broth and just use it traditionally; like, cook with it and stuff like that. But it actually turns out that a lot of our customers prefer to drink it straight. So they’ll have it in the morning or just drink it at night or something.

What are some of the biggest benefits of bone broth that you think it’s important for people to know – things that might make people who don’t use it consider adding it to their diet? 

I would say there are a few things. So first of all, even if you eat a really healthy diet, oftentimes you’re not getting some of the critical amino acids and nutrients that really only exist in bone marrow, organ meats, and products like bone broth. So I think bone broth is one of the easiest ways to get these key amino acids and nutrients into your diet without having to eat kidneys, and hearts, or these other things that the average American just doesn’t want to eat, for whatever reason.

Another thing is that a lot of the supplements that doctors will recommend to anyone dealing with skin conditions or joint health – like glucosamine or collagen – are all actually amino acids and proteins that are present in really high levels in bone broth itself. So I really think bone broth is one of the best natural and bio-available ways to get those things into your system.

Do you think that you guys have accomplished what you set out to with Kettle & Fire since starting the company a year ago? Where do you want to go from here? 

Oh, we have not even come close to doing what we want to do! I mean, it’s been a good year, but the fact is that most people I talk to still have no idea what bone broth is. So as long as that is a problem, we still have a lot of work to do. Our goal is to bring bone broth back into the American diet.

About Tamara Rahoumi

Tamara Rahoumi is a writer on The Path Editorial Team. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in magazine journalism at NYU. Her passion for wellness always has her researching the latest fitness trends, experimenting with recipes from superfood cookbooks, and working towards an overall healthier and happier lifestyle. In addition to reading her articles on The Path, you can follow her adventures on her lifestyle blog, The Curly Nomad.