It's mayo, it's bacon, it's Baconnaise — and sales are sizzling
Weeks after Jon Stewart's taste test of their latest product on a recent "Daily Show," two Seattle "bacontrepreneurs" are seeing orders roll in for jars of their "Baconnaise."
Seattle Times staff reporter
Weeks after Jon Stewart's stomach-turningly savage taste test of their latest product on a recent "Daily Show," two Seattle bacontrepreneurs are seeing orders roll in for jars of the viscous hybrid, "Baconnaise."
If you thought baconmania was played out, Justin Esch and Dave Lefkow also are seeing an expansion of their corner of it that will make you wonder just what's too much of a good, savory, delicious thing.
The hilariously self-promoting Esch, 30, and Lefkow, 35 — who make appearances in bacon costumes — have been featured in more than 100 newspapers and television shows, 50 magazines and on National Public Radio.
But in that Feb. 25 "The Daily Show," Stewart first ridiculed Baconnaise, then dipped a pancake-wrapped sausage-on-a-stick in the stuff, gagged while he lurched around and then described the taste in a way unprintable here.
"Phenomenal press! The exposure we got on 'The Daily Show' trumped all of that combined. Online sales went up by a factor of five or six right after the show," Lefkow said.
This raises two possibilities:
1. A certain number of viewers would try hitting themselves in the head with a claw hammer if they saw it on TV.
2. It's impossible to overstate just how much people really are into bacon.
Esch and Lefkow say they "knew the bit was happening," that the show had contacted them, requested the product and that they had spoken to the writers in a process that took almost two months. But they weren't expecting Stewart to act as if he was gargling with sewage.
"We were told after the bit that everything he said was ad-libbed," Esch said.
To call the pair philosophical about it would be an understatement: "Dave and I started this company in a garage, and 18 months later we're on 'The Daily Show'? He's a comedian. He's not Martha Stewart. He doesn't plug products. But Lefkow's like, 'He said what?' "
Lefkow added, "We get the joke, and we think he's funny and awesome and hilarious. I think Jon Stewart made Justin's mom cry, though."
From headquarters in a nondescript South Park business cluster, the pair released Baconnaise, which sells for $5.99, in November and say they've sold about 40,000 jars. In the 18 months since they introduced Bacon Salt, they've sold about three-quarters-of-a-million units.
They won't divulge the Baconnaise formula. "We started with plain mayonnaise and bacon. We sat down with a chef and said, 'We want this white stuff here to taste like a plate of bacon,' " Esch said.
The end result has no artificial flavor, no MSG — and no bacon. It's vegetarian and kosher. While some people have accused them of heresy for that, others have accused them of "creating a heart attack in a jar," Esch said.
But time out: Bacon isn't unhealthful in and of itself. "No, it depends on who you are and what else you eat," explained Adam Drewnowski, director of the University of Washington's Center for Public Health and Nutrition.
"So if you're a healthy person who eats bacon, you'll be fine. If you're an unhealthy person who eats bacon, it could be the straw that broke the camel's back."
It's hard to quantify how baconcentric Seattle is, but Drewnowski hypothesizes: "One thing to be said for bacon, for pork fat and lard, is that there are no trans fats. ... And Seattle has been in the lead of removing trans fats from menus."
Novelty store Archie McPhee sells bacon watches, gumballs, dental floss, jelly beans, bandages, wallets, air fresheners, place mats, toothpicks, gift wrap, a bacon scented-and-patterned tuxedo (seriously) and a "What Would Bacon Do?" game.
"We've got a bacon belt coming soon," said owner Mark Pahlow. "We're moving this into a fashion world here."
Even someone who's seen the signpost at the intersection of enjoyment and kitsch would have to ask: What's going on?
"Well, we love bacon here," Pahlow said. "Anthony Bourdain says bacon is a gateway food for vegans to get back into being carnivores again. Bacon is so irresistible when it's sizzling and frying. It's kind of a bristling at the PC culture that we live in here."
The blog "I Heart Bacon" (www.iheartbacon.com) is also based in Seattle. Proprietor Megan Woo hearts it so much that she has had a bacon scarf, a bacon wallet and recently tried some bacon spray (not a product of Esch and Lefkow's).
"I sprayed it right into my mouth. It was the most disgusting thing I ever tasted," she said.
Naturally, the road led her to Bacon Salt ("My savior has arrived," she blogged of it), and then Baconnaise. "I found it to taste a little bit like hummus for some reason. It's more like a dip than a mayonnaise," she said.
If fans like Woo prove that it really is impossible to overstate how much some people are into bacon, even Esch and Lefkow are surprised by more recent evidence. For instance, they intended Bacon Lip Balm to be more of a novelty item for Christmas 2008, and it was a "huge success," according to Esch. So they decided to make another "funny holiday item" for Christmas 2009:
They announced "baconlube" on www.baconsaltblog.com on March 31, as a kind of April Fool's gag. In three days, they got well in excess of 500 requests for the bacon-scented (and flavored) personal lubricant and now say they intend to make the stuff: "The people have spoken and apparently they want this to be a real product. ... So stay tuned!"
Jumping through hoops that range from board-certified gynecologists to the Food and Drug Administration, Esch said they hope to roll out the new product within about 60 to 90 days — and maybe even draw Stewart's moneymaking disgust again.
"This is like a really bad joke that went way too far, that you find out the joke's really on us, because people want to buy it," Esch said. "A lot of people."
Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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