409 Tailgate Club: The story of how two Penn State fans turned tradition into business
Take a walk around State College on a crisp Saturday afternoon in the fall and you won’t notice anything out of the ordinary. A sea of blue and white floods the area surrounding Beaver Stadium, with grills, tents and flags scattered across the landscape. In the middle of it all, hiding in plain site, is one of the most unique tailgate parties in the B1G.
Mosey over to Lot 18 in the West Zone tailgating area a few hours before a Penn State home football game and you’re likely to bump into Andrew Goldberg, a territory manager for R.A.D Sports, and Jeremy Crouse, an IT planner and integrator for the Department of Defense. They aren’t just your Average Joe tailgaters, the two PSU alums host one of the most recognizable tailgate parties in Happy Valley — 409 Tailgate Club.
The friendship between Andrew and Jeremy dates back to the mid 1990s when they met while attending Penn State. The two lifelong Nittany Lion football fans would often tailgate and attend home games together during their college years. Saturday hangouts around Beaver Stadium turned into a small tradition — one that lasted even after their days as students in State College came to an end.
After graduating from Penn State, Andrew and Jeremy accepted jobs that took them to two different locations in the country, and both started families. Despite being miles apart, the two would always make the pilgrimage back to State College on those Saturdays in the fall and continued tailgating together.
Family, friends, food and football. There wasn’t much more to the pre-game weekly gatherings in Happy Valley. Until one day, 20 years after the two became friends while students at Penn State, Andrew and Jeremy brainstormed an idea that led to a brand new business venture.
The 409 Tailgate Club was born.
One photograph, which the two founders call, “The Moment” was taken by Jeremy’s wife in 2016. The picture captured the instant the two friends knew they were going to make a splash.
“It was 2016, I forget what game it was, it was one later on in the year. It was after a game and we were just sitting there talking about it and my wife was yelling at us ‘I gotta go home, you guys always have these crazy ideas,'” Jeremy remembers. “We had the whole business plan, the whole model, we were good.”
Not long after the flash of the camera captured “The Moment,” 409 Tailgate Club began its launch. Andrew and Jeremy had been hosting tailgate parties together for years — feeding and entertaining a large number of guests was an exact science. Now, the two were stepping outside of their comfort zones, developing, marketing and selling barbecue sauces (which they refer to as “tailgate sauces”), spice rubs and the like.
Generating interest in new products usually takes time, but for the new founders of 409 Tailgate Club, things took off pretty quickly.
“It all happened pretty fast. We were pretty fortunate to have a connection and friendship with Jim Galanti from Keystone Sports Network. Partnering up with him helped things explode pretty fast,” Jeremy said. “That really helped us with marketing right off the bat.”
“We had a pretty big network of friends ourselves since we went to school there,” Andrew added. “We both were in a fraternity at Penn State, so our networks were already pretty large.”
Go to 409 Tailgate Club’s website and you’ll find all of Andrew and Jeremy’s products: Original BBQ Tailgate Sauce and Peachy Pa’s Bourbon Tailgate Sauce, Bloody Mary mix, and a pair of spice rubs. You can even locate three 409 Tailgate Club wines, thanks to a partnership with Freas Farm Winery — one blueberry and two white wines. Fitting, right?
In just three short years, Andrew and Jeremy have seen their products shipped to Nittany Lions fans nationwide. The opportunity to send a small piece of the Penn State tailgating experience into the homes of others is an aspect of the business they embrace. Because of that, 409 Tailgate Club has seen some significant growth in a short period of existence.
“It’s just kinda taken off over the last couple of years,” Andrew said. “It’s been fun to watch.”
Andrew and Jeremy were connected before they ever met in State College. Both were regularly attending Penn State football games at Beaver Stadium throughout the 1980s as kids, developing their undying love for the Nittany Lions.
Really, that’s where the story begins. Without the passion for Penn State football, there would be no 409 Tailgate Club.
“Both Jeremy and I were born and raised to go to Penn State. We went to college together and that’s where we met,” Andrew said. “So, we used to tailgate together just as kinda crazy students back in the day.”
They didn’t know it back then, but Andrew and Jeremy made the perfect tailgate pair. Over the years, they’ve recognized each other’s skills and used it to help promote and grow 409 Tailgate Club. Even when it comes to knowing who’s better with the tongs and spatula, both are very self-aware.
“It’s 100 percent Andrew,” Jeremy responds without hesitation when asked who is the better cook.
Andrew doesn’t disagree.
“I’m usually manning the grill and Jeremy’s keeping the party going. He’s taking the pictures,” Andrew adds. “He’s more the social director where I’m more the food director.”
Jeremy’s expertise as the “social director” at the weekly fall parties has been a huge part of 409 Tailgate Club’s growth and success. With the expansion and prominence of social media, those photos on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have helped build an audience and generate more buzz about the regular tailgates at Penn State.
Andrew takes a lot of pride in the food he makes outside the stadium on those Saturday afternoons, as well. It isn’t just a standard burgers and brats menu that he presents his patrons on a weekly basis. A lot of times, the menu can be decided based on the time of Penn State’s kickoff that day.
“We’ll base our tailgate menu off of the kickoff time. If we have a noon game, it’s more of a brunch-style menu,” Andrew explains. “When you have 3:30 game, you can start off with a Bloody Mary bar and some brunch-style food, and then you can roll into the traditional barbecue.”
Regardless of what he’s serving, Andrew says the food he prepares for the 409 Tailgate Club is one step ahead at what you might find at a standard tailgate party.
“I’d like to say the food that we serve is a notch above, because it is a lot of traditional wood-smoked barbecue that we do ourselves.”
Jim Galanti of Keystone Sports Network, who helped get the 409 Tailgate Club rolling in the early days, is a frequent visitor at those parties. He agrees that the food Andrew serves is second to none.
“We tailgate with the 409 guys and the food is incredible,” says Jim. “The wings are incredible! And so is the pulled pork.”
On Saturdays in State College, 409 Tailgate Club is a hub for fans wearing blue and white. Andrew and Jeremy wanted to make it clear, though, that you don’t have to be wearing a Penn State jersey to enjoy their unique atmosphere. Anyone, whether you’re a fan of a B1G program, an in-state rival or any other team across the country, is invited to join the party.
“We welcome anyone to Penn State with open arms,” Andrew said. “If anyone wants to come to Penn State, tailgate, meet people, get in touch with us and we’ll try to help out as much as possible.”
When 409 Tailgate Club launched and Andrew and Jeremy started bottling and selling products, they were content on keeping things simple — selling tailgate sauces and spice rubs. A random conversation with a total stranger prompted a new idea.
“A friend of ours has a store in State College and we were doing a tasting of our tailgate sauces and a lady came by and tried our sauces and said ‘Wow! You guys need to make a Bloody Mary,'” Jeremy recalled.
As the stranger walked away into the mob of people filling the streets of Happy Valley, the two traded glances and knew that the woman had provided them with a brilliant idea.
Shortly after she made the recommendation, Andrew and Jeremy got to work on developing the new creation. Once they found the perfect Bloody Mary mixture, it started to become a staple at their weekly tailgates.
But there was still one thing bothering Andrew and Jeremy about their new product: they wanted to give the woman credit, but had no idea how to do so. Tracking her down would’ve put the two on a blue-and-white version of a Where’s Waldo? hunt.
So, they had their own solution.
“We didn’t know her name,” Andrew said. “When we really moved forward and did it, we were like ‘Oh man, we need to try and find her.’ But there was really now way. She was just one of a million people who was in State College, so we figured the way we could give her credit was to call it That Lady’s Sweet Bloody Mary Mix.”
Now, That Lady’s Sweet Bloody Mary Mix has become as popular as the wings and pulled pork at 409 Tailgate Club parties. To this day, the name of the woman who made the recommendation remains a mystery.
Nearly 15 years have passed since Penn State defeated Ohio State on Oct. 8, 2005, an early B1G matchup between two of the traditional blueblood programs in college football. Both Andrew and Jeremy remember it as if it happened yesterday.
After five years of mediocre football, which included four losing seasons and provided very little excitement, Penn State resurrected its image as a national powerhouse in that game. The 16th-ranked Nittany Lions were 5-0 and No. 6 Ohio State was 3-1 on the season. One play in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter signified PSU’s return, and it’s a moment both Andrew and Jeremy look back on fondly.
“When Tamba Hali came around the corner and sacked Troy Smith and caused that fumble — to me, inside that stadium, it almost felt like the whole thing was going to come crumbling down to the ground,” Andrew said. “It was shaking. I get goosebumps just talking about it. That was hands-down my favorite moment inside that stadium.”
“The loudest I’ve ever heard that stadium was that moment, and I’ve been to every home game in I don’t know how long,” Jeremy adds.
It’s only appropriate that two friends, and now business partners, who bonded over Penn State football and tailgating in college, share the same favorite moment in Nittany Lions history. And it’s an important reminder of how and why 409 Tailgate Club exists.
The importance of the game itself is even worked into the name of Andrew and Jeremy’s tailgating business. “409” is a tribute the number of wins legendary coach Joe Paterno collected in his 45 years as the head coach at Penn State.
As much as Andrew and Jeremy love cooking, tailgating and hosting the best party in State College every Saturday in the fall, they haven’t lost that passion for Penn State football. When toe meets leather inside the walls of Beaver Stadium, the kings of tailgating are just as ordinary as the the 107,000 fans that pack the house.
Andrew admits that, occasionally, he doesn’t make it through the gates of Beaver Stadium. Jeremy, on the other hand, is always in his seat.
“Yeah, I go into every game,” Jeremy said. ” I miss weddings for football games. I might make an exception if Penn State is playing on the road. But, yeah, I don’t miss games.”
The love for Penn State football brought Andrew and Jeremy closer together two decades ago. Little did they know back then that the pre-game parties in college would develop into a business venture that would combine all of their hobbies.
Both have been overjoyed by how rapidly the 409 Tailgate Club has taken off, and how quickly word spread among Penn State fans. The hope is that popularity will continue to grow in the coming years.
“We’d like to continue to grow it. It’s a side business, we both have full-time jobs and families,” Andrew said. “But it involves all of our passions — I love food, I love tailgating, I love Penn State and we love being able to spend the weekends with family and friends.”