A man is watching his kid's first T-ball practice, minding his own business, when suddenly he's hit in the face by an errant ball. Pow! There are zany sound effects, like birds
chirping or cuckoo clocks exploding. Narration is provided by Tom Bergeron. The camera cuts back to the kid, who says something adorable like, "Daddy go boom!" The audience laughs, and then coos. The video wins $5,000 on America's Funniest Home Videos. With that $5,000, the whacked dad teams up with a devoted pork lover and launches a line of successful bacon-flavored vegetarian seasonings. In America, this is how dreams are born.
To hear Dave Lefkow and Justin Esch explain it, their product—their vision—is an edible version of the American dream: no calories, fat, sugar, or carbs, low in sodium, with a taste exactly like salty bacon. And like most American dreams—Mormonism, the Bowflex—Bacon Salt started as (and was funded by) a series of jokes.
In order to understand the punch line, you need to visit the Fat Alley BBQ in Telluride, Colorado, and enjoy a Mitch Morgan with Esch and his brother. "A Mitch Morgan is a shot of bourbon with a slice of fried bacon dangling out of the glass like a garnish," Esch explains. "You can't get one outside of Telluride. Mitch is a local with a strong affection for bacon." Esch and his brother grew up in Telluride, and every holiday finds them toasting bourbon and sipping bacon at the Fat Alley. It's family tradition.
During a Jewish- and military-themed family wedding last fall (think Air Force swords and yarmulkes), Esch was listening to his brother describe the uniquely snappy flavor of a Mitch Morgan to a table of kosher-keeping Jews. The brothers bemoaned the fact that Jews don't eat bacon because "it's the greatest flavor on earth." "I joked to my brother, 'I wish salt tasted like bacon,'" says Esch. "He laughed, but he was looking at me like I was kind of a genius."
That was the end of it, for a while. The party ended, the brothers parted, and Esch went back to work at a small Seattle consulting firm. Lefkow was his boss, and on a business trip to Florida over a gallon of mojitos, Esch shared his jokey concept for Bacon Salt. "It was the greatest thing I'd ever heard of," recalls Lefkow. "We got online that night and checked out domain names and trademarks, and everything was available. We've been working on Bacon Salt full-time for about 10 months now."
After trademarking their dream—salt that tastes like bacon—they still needed seed money. The partners tapped Lefkow's son, 3-year-old Dean, for his $5,000 popping-dad-in-the-face-with-a-ball cash prize (which they've since reimbursed). With this capital, Esch and Lefkow were able to experiment. They tried making bacon salt out of real bacon drippings. It failed. Next they teamed up with a professional flavor technician. "We told her that we wanted it to taste like the smell of bacon fried on a Sunday morning," Esch says.
By March, they had their product: Bacon Salt Original Flavor, Peppered, and Hickory. All three flavors are kosher and vegetarian, and Hickory is vegan. "At first we had Maple, too," says Lefkow, "but that tasted horrible. The only thing anyone could eat it on was waffles, and we figured people weren't quite ready for that."
They call their flavors a delicious alternative to eating bacon, and it's a concept that bacon fanatics have wholeheartedly embraced. "We get fan mail every day talking about what people are trying Bacon Salt on," Esch says. Popular items include: scrambled eggs, popcorn, corn on the cob, steak, mashed potatoes, guacamole, and meat. More dubious (but supposedly successful) experiments include pineapple, watermelon, peaches, and chocolate.
"The first night we got Bacon Salt," Esch says, "I drove over to Dave's house and we spent the entire night cooking and tasting it on everything in his kitchen." Lefkow adds, "The only thing we didn't like it on was ice cream."
The partners debuted Bacon Salt in July on their website, www.baconsalt.com, and at City Fish in the Pike Place Market. They've tried to keep the production local to the Northwest—the salts are blended in Idaho, packaged and boxed in Tacoma with labels printed on Capitol Hill in Seattle. So far, the salts have been a hit in 19 countries and all 50 states, and their popularity is snowballing. Bacon Salt is currently on the shelves in 100-plus stores around Seattle, including select Red Apple, QFC, and Brown and Cole stores. "Our goal is to have it in every store in America two years from now," says Esch. "It should be the new salt. It is the new salt. Everything should taste like bacon."