This is One Year In, in which Eater Austin interviews chefs and owners on the occasion of their restaurant's first anniversary. This week, we speak with Jed Taylor of Bacon.
Bacon. [Photo: Jon Bolden/EATX]
Bacon, the restaurant straight-up, totally, blatantly, completely named after everyone's favorite pork product, opened downtown at 10th Street and Lamar Boulevard last September, gaining greasy steam ever since by curing their own meat and making their own unique recipes in a frenzy of porcine passion.
In this edition of One Year In, Eater Austin sat down with Bacon's tattooed "Head Honcho" Jed Taylor, who talks chef shuffles, a potential location in Las Vegas and "craziness" on the menu. Customers, he says, can't get enough weird ways to eat their bacon.
Does Bacon as it exists today look like the Bacon you'd planned?
Physically, yes. The restaurant looks exactly the way we wanted it to look. We're still trying to build it up, just make it into a prettier place. We're hoping to put in a patio eventually. Just constantly redoing the art, making it look fresh inside. We're really into the aspect of, you change the website once a year. You make it fresh, you give it life. It's one of the only ways you have contact with people outside of Austin.
What about the menu?
Menu-wise, wow! People want crazy. We had no idea how crazy people wanted it. And we get a lot of terrible reviews because we don't have craziness on the menu. It's tough because craziness doesn't sell. Craziness is a one-time, I ate a 72-oz-steak, it's great, I almost killed myself, but it was worth the $27. But wow, has the menu changed. We started really working so much more with all-around pork. That's really been a calling. The pulled pork we put on stuff now is incredible.
Our chicken and waffles are still number one in town. We've had no one top us on chicken and waffles. We've had no one step up to the plate. We've done three competitions for chicken and waffles and ham, and we've taken those. No one has stepped up to a bacon competition yet, and I don't blame them. The Vince Young [Steakhouse] guy might say something, they're always talking about it on the radio.
The vegetarian options have lessened, and that was really Austin's choice. They love our salads. They love our black bean burger. They love the way they can make our menu into a vegetarian menu. But it's never ceasing on how many different varieties of mayo that we have to concoct for a vegetarian menu. We definitely want to satisfy those people here, and we love having them here. We constantly get e-mails about where our lettuce comes from and where we're buying things. The meat? Is it ethically treated in the correct way? And we answer those and try to love on our customers that way.
What's been the biggest surprise in the last year?
Wow. Mainly the customers. The feedback they gave was really surprising, I feel like you can read reviews on Yelp and different online queries from different restaurants and you get a wide spectrum, and you get the same on ours, but actually just customers coming up and asking us to try different things with them. The loyalty. We changed our hours about halfway through the season, realizing that breakfast in Austin isn't as robust as we thought it was. So the Monday through Wednesday breakfast faded away eventually, so we decided to pack it out for lunch and dinner, which has been great. The customers really told us that.
And they gave us a great response and keep showing up. They still eat the breakfast tacos even if it's not morning. They love them. That was really surprising. And how much they told us about our staff. They love our staff. No matter what the Yelp review is, out of a hundred, there might be one staff issue. But they're constantly telling us how great the staff is. And I give that back to our general manager Jesse. He's just incredible at it.
How much have you relied on Yelp and Facebook reviews over the past year?
You know, I've seen all the Restaurant Impossible and the Ramsay specials and seen how he tears them apart on how they actual listen and what they're supposed to be doing. It's funny. At no time would either one of those chefs walk in here and ask us to be doing something different than what we're doing. We really pride ourselves on taking care of listening to what those people say on Yelp, listening to what they say on Facebook.
We just saw a guy who posted the second day we opened and razzed the hell out of us. Just gave us hell. It was his first post ever on Facebook, this long blog post. After our year anniversary, he reposted it because ten of his friends were going to our unlimited bacon day on the anniversary. And he was like holy cow, I didn't think these guys would be open. So I found that, read his blog, said come back. He's already rewritten it and changed his ways.
I'd love anybody to give us a second chance from the day we opened. We had a lot of issues. It was a struggle. We had different cooks, an entirely different staff in the kitchen except for one guy. Our dishwasher is by far one of the best cooks we've had. He started out as a dishwasher. That's probably one of the biggest surprises, too. He's talented as hell.
Your chef, Tyler Johnson, left Bacon back in January. Are you looking for a replacement?
Chefs make a menu, and cooks make a meal. There are some very talented chefs and I feel like it's really surprising, the talent of chefs that are here in Austin. But most of the time, there are so many sous chefs that spin off because they've got just as much talent and just a little more drive. A lot of cooks want to be a TV cook. Le Cordon Bleu can't solve everything. Our guys that work in house now have been the fastest we've ever had. They have the best quality of service.
It's because of my staff, they feel like it's a co-op. They have ownership, because that's how we treat them here. It's the best paid staff in Austin, hands-down. Hands down. Our guys make minimum $8/hour, plus tips. Nobody gets that. We laugh when we hear about little feuds about tips in town, because our guys pull $11/hour just doing counter service.
There have to be a lot of benefits just to being called Bacon, being bacon-centric, because it's such a fad.
The deal with Bacon, even calling it Bacon, the branding of it is unholy. Our t-shirt sales have topped Chuy's in the first month of starting. We sell online, we sell inside, we sell out constantly. The branding of Bacon is so easy because it's just a common thing and no one fights over it. We don't call it Austin's Own Home Bacon. We're Bacon. That's it. We're Bacon Austin, but yeah, we're Bacon. The feeds from Facebook are amazing. To see how many people are constantly coming up with ideas and throwing stuff at us. Because it's not like a sushi place where you've got an unlimited ingredient list. These guys are just coming up with bacon stuff. All you've got to have is rice and sushi, and you're ready to go.
But with Bacon, it's the crazy stuff! The double-wrapped, thick, no hot dog, just bacon wrapped in circles and stuffed in a bun and you're just like, 'What's going on!?' But it's fun to see the guys that come in. The [University of Texas] football players have been a huge deal for us because they come in and get chicken and waffles with five eggs on it. And they're bringing fifteen and twenty guys in here. They destroy us.
Do you worry that you're going to run out of ways to serve bacon?
I think that's the fun thing about it. When we started with the menu, we did it exactly how we wanted it. We really wanted to make it so that everything was easy. It was the things you liked about bacon already. I don't eat here five nights a week—there's no reason I couldn't—but most of the time, I come in and get something I want and it's great. A sandwich, a salad. i'll bring home a cobb salad to my wife, I could do it five nights a week and she'd be ecstatic. But there are so many great things on the menu to keep basing bacon off of. And with the "bacon shortage" going on right now that's really big, it matters that we're making it in-house. We don't have to rely on so many different people.
The deal is that the customers give us everything. From bacon popcorn to crazy new bacon tacos. They want this quesadilla taco that you put cheese in a taco but you make it like a quesadilla and then you open it up and you make the taco in it? I was like, holy shit, that's amazing.
People just email you these kind of ideas?
I'm telling you! It's constant! It's an e-mail or something, they've never met any of the owners but I'll get an e-mail once a week: "Somebody says you owned this restaurant and I got an idea for you, man, it's pretty good!"
Why do you think people are so crazy about bacon?
It's easy. You grew up with it. You love it. It's a constant. As the fads come and go in different things, there will never be a day where you say, 'Oh, we shouldn't get bacon for breakfast.' There's always going to be somebody doing a crazy dessert with it. It's not going to fade out, that's the deal. People think that because it's bacon and we base it on bacon that we only serve craziness. That we're only on TV all the time because we serve bacon. Yeah, we've gone on four television shows, but it's not because of the craziness. It's because our name's Bacon. You got to go to a place where the name is Bacon. If they had a place named Steak, you'd go to that place, you know?
And all brands, all brands of people come in here. The hipsters, skaters, football players, the blue hairs from Westlake. Theyr'e here. It's great. And they're all happy. I listened to guys the other day, four old men sat together and talked about World War II, and they hadn't seen each other since college. I'm sitting next to three skateboarders. Nobody cares! Everybody's in the same place. It's great. It feels like a family kind of restaurant.
We're a year in and we've never had a fight, so that's good.
Well, you don't have a full bar.
That's true! The homeless buy from us instead of 7-11. They beg for money on the corner and then walk right into here and sit on down during our happy hour. It's amazing. And I can't complain, they're buying beer.
That's pretty good community outreach.
Exactly! I'm there for them.
So no disasters in the last year?
No floods, a year in and we've had no floods. That's Shoal Creek, it's creeped up on us six times, but fingers crossed, it's going good. No major equipment fails. Everything's been holding on.
Y'all also opened the Bacon Bus.
The Bacon Bus! It was a dream of two of the other owners and they got together and worked with some of the best trailer guys here in town, the guys who did the Hey Cupcake! trailers. We have outfitted that thing with so much equipment. It is totally stainless steel. It's got a sound system. We took a lot of leads from the guys at Wahoo's and the guys at Cupcake. It's diesel. We would like to run it on bacon diesel eventually, but it's a step process. Austin loves that, and we love that, too. There's no dorky guy that doesn't like to make his own gas.
Could you run it entirely on bacon fuel?
Oh yeah, we make that much bacon. Yeah. It's a lot. You can't imagine how much just comes off the truck in an evening. There's almost a gallon of grease coming off the truck and that's before we change the greasers. That's just bacon grease. A gallon of bacon grease. Our grease guys love us.
So what's next for Bacon in the coming year?
Well, fall's coming up. Winter gets scary with holidays but we're excited. We've got a lot of new stuff coming with Thanksgiving. We always love to play with Thanksgiving. Come up with new bacon ideas then. And then with Christmas, it gets really big for us because we host a lot of parties. It's the family place, it's quiet in the evenings, you can come get a good spot in here. We're excited about that. We'll be doing ACL and a lot of SXSW stuff.
It's gonna be good to be a year in with the same staff. Everybody's been really solid in here, they want to be here.
What about a second Bacon location? Any plans?
Not quite yet. It's something we've talked about. We've had a guy from Las Vegas who wants to open Viva Las Bacon, and we've had a lot of talks with him. He likes our menu, he likes how we source it. He likes how we run it. Because there's only a certain way you can do something that's totally involved with bacon. To base something entirely on chicken or whatever, it's still a lot. He likes our steadiness. He likes Jesse. He's learned that. He's got a good spot. We went to Vegas about three months ago and visited and saw the spot he's talking about. He's still working on funding, but yeah, it could be fun. Fun to have a Viva Las Bacon. It would definitely be the TV one, versus this one.
Knowing what you know now, would you do it all over again?
Not the same way.
What would you change?
You know, I brought in Chad Dolezal who helped me come up with the menu, and he is still a good guy and I love him and he's still a close friend of mine and I know he's still working on his own place, but I would have done it that way. That would be the biggest thing. I would have had him start it, come in for about a month, two months, and train my cooks. Those guys want it more. The cooks are hungry for it. With a guy like Chad, who's the king and I totally admire him, his ideas are definitely smarter than a lot of chefs out there. He just knows when to say, 'This is a really bad idea,' or 'We can do it ourselves and save money,' or 'It's not about name brand.' But it doesn't have to be fuckin' Wagyu beef. But I'd do it again. It's been great. It's had it's ups and downs, but it's been great.