Living, dying and doing business by the motto, “Everything should taste like bacon,” the founders of J&D Foods have turned their passion for pork fat into greenbacks with products like baconnaise, bacon pop, bacon lip balm and bacon-flavored envelopes.
Self-described “bacontrepreneurs” Justin Esch and Dave Lefkow started their Seattle-based business in 2007 with $5,000 in capital after a drunken conversation on a business trip (the two were working for a small technology company called Jobster). Lefkow’s 3-year-old son Dean won the seed money with a video submission to “America’s Funniest Home Videos” — he accidentally struck Dad Dave while practicing T-ball in their backyard.
“Dean Lefkow became the financial backing of J&D Foods and he has been a total tyrant, he demands incredibly high returns, all pressure. He comes to the office, he has a desk and a trike. I am serious, he bosses people around,” Esch told The Daily Caller with a laugh.
Esch explained how a pair of tech guys with no food production experience could concoct a zero-calorie, zero-fat, vegetarian, kosher seasoning loved by so many: bacon salt. The company has since expanded its line from the original product.
“I called a friend of mine from college whose dad worked in dry goods foods development and he helped us stumble through the first run of it and just make the product,” Esch said. “And we found a bottle vendor online and a place to buy boxes to put it. It was $4,800 for the first 3,000 bottles of bacon salt. At that point it was just a passion product, a joke.”
The success of the products are not been a joke, however, having tapped into America’s love for bacon, the pair have found their niche. Since founding the company Justin and Dave have been able to finance their quirky and hilarious antics.
Since the company’s inception, Eche and Leftkow have:
- Auctioned off a bacon Kevin Bacon — a statue of the actor’s face built entirely of bacon.
- Sponsored a wrestling night drenched in 6,000 pounds of mayo. Justin warns: “You’ve got to have an exit strategy, if you’re going to have a mayonnaise fight, and I mean really, write that down!”
- Created a website warning people not to snort their products. “I don’t even know how the URL was available,” Esch said. “A bunch of kids started sending videos of them snorting bacon salt in 2008. So Dave was like, ‘Dude this is bad, we can’t promote this,’ and I was like, ‘No, no, no, no, what we do is we put up a website admonishing it, tell people how to get help, and why they shouldn’t do it, and tell them if they are going to snort it, please send us a video.’”
- Invented but never distributed bacon sex-lube — due to pressure from actual sex-lube companies. “But it’s kind of not our brand. You know it was kind of a funny joke, and a juvenile thing we did,” Justin said, admitting they still joke about it. “You know maybe maybe we learned that everything shouldn’t taste like bacon. ”
- Launched a line of bacon baby formula, for April Fools Day, but the pair warns: “Note that we can’t guarantee that your baby will become smarter or more athletic from using this formula, as those particular claims are still undergoing review by the FDA — but we think you’ll be pleased!”
- Wrote an apology letter, modeled after Steve Job’s apology for the iPhone, for failing to sell Bacon Gravy earlier.
- Held a baconcathalon to raise money for leukemia, a cause close to their heart, as Lefkow’s daughter suffers from the disease. “The Bacathalon was a hit. I mean we had all these D-list celebrities in Seattle compete against each other, like third-string professional soccer players to the weather guy on local cable access,” Esho said. “We had all these people just battle it out and they had to wear these bacon suits … we pull money together for that, the money doesn’t go to Ashley, it’s just she made a lot of friends while she was in Children’s Hospital in chemo, we met all these kids in the hospital and life sucks when you’re a kid and have cancer… we just, we buy them stuff. Like Nintendo Wii’s, and blankets, and toys.”
When asked what it takes to devise a company entirely devoted to bacon, Ecsh advised, “You have to start by being a great American.” And, it seems a desire to start a successful company.
“I wanted to be an entrepreneur … I want to start a company,” he said, explaining an idea he pitched to Dave early on in the process. “I told him that I wanted to manufacture, launch and distribute a line of pornographic Christmas tree ornaments and call them Pornaments … Pornographic Christmas tree ornaments … he was like, ‘I think it’s a novel and fun idea but I don’t think there’s a market there and I think your mom probably wouldn’t appreciate it if you put the family name.’”
As much as the pair joke, one thing they are serious about is supporting the troops and they do so through Operation Bacon Salt, whereby they sent packages of bacon salt to the men and women in uniform overseas to not only provide them with flavoring for their MRE’s but also to give them a slice of home in Muslim countries where pig products are verboten. Ecsh explains they got the idea when they received an e-mail from a soldier asking what it took to get the product sent to Iraq.
“So we decided … well let’s send free products to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan … We pick one group of soldiers a month and we’ve done [it] since then and they all send us photos and videos.”
The idea has caught on. Now, not only does the company provide free products, but individuals and groups such as the Boy Scouts sponsor even more products to be sent overseas.
When all is said and done, Ecsh and Lefkow prove that even in a down economy, with a great idea, good attitude, and bit of humor it is possible to find success.