It was the weekend of March 13-15, one that will go down in the history books years from now when the story of The Bacon Jams’ meteoric rise to spreadable success is written.
I went to New York City for two events spanning three days. The first was NYC Craft Beer Fest in Manhattan, which had three sessions — one Friday night and two on Saturday. The second was Long Island Bacon Fest in Coram. I packed my Honda CR-V Friday afternoon with inventory and set out on my way. Two-and-a-half hours and a jammed Lincoln Tunnel later, I arrived at 69th Regiment Armory with two hours left before the start of the first session of the NYC Craft Beer Fest. I double-parked at the edge of the intersection of 26th Street and Lexington Avenue, put on the hazard lights and rushed inside. I procured a hand cart and went back out to my car for one of the three trips I’d make to unload everything I needed. Half-an-hour later, and nervous with a New York City Parking Authority employee writing a ticket for a car on the other side of the street, I got back in my car and sought a more permanent (sort of) parking spot one block down. I had eight cases of product and an external battery left in the car, which required another two trips for transportation. I was all set up with about 40 minutes left before the VIP session began at 7. Having not eaten since breakfast, I grabbed a hoagie — er, hero — and coffee from the convenience store across the street and wolfed and chugged them down, respectively.
Things started slowly with only one sale in the first hour-and-a-half despite copious samplings and unanimous approval. However, as is the norm with beer events, people came back in droves after having their fill of brews, ready to buy The Bacon Jams. It was a rapid revelation. On average, I made a sale every 3.24 minutes in the final two hours. This was my first big event in New York City, and I had no idea what to expect. By the end of the first session, I had an inkling I was going to be in for a long — LONG — Saturday night.
The two Saturday sessions at NYC Craft Beer Fest surpassed the frenzied pace of Friday evening. Forget inkling, by the end of the first Saturday session, I knew I had not properly anticipated the amount of inventory I’d be able to sell. When the Saturday evening session began, I had already accepted my fate: As soon as the event ended and I was done cleaning up and breaking down, I’d be driving the two hours back to the warehouse in Bridgeport (PA) to reload with inventory, then turning around and immediately trekking to Long Island for Sunday. I got in the car at 10:30 PM and left Manhattan, headed for the New Jersey Turnpike. Without any traffic, I put a little pedal to the metal and arrived at the warehouse in Bridgeport at 12:22. Under the clear night sky and in brisk temperatures, I loaded up the trunk with more cases of All Original, Red Chile & Garlic and Black Pepper. I stopped at Wawa around the corner for a coffee, banana and 5-Hour Energy before resuming my journey around 2. The roads were empty, my mood was calm and I felt at peace. I was doing what I had to do. Hustle, hustle and more hustle. Besides, I had nobody to blame but myself for my predicament. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise, a key learning moment in what it takes to build and grow a small business you believe in during a critical juncture in its development. I used the hours of solitude in the car to contemplate my vision for the future of The Bacon Jams. One of those goals years down the line: Become The Official Spread of the NFL. Forget half-a-point, it’s half-a-pound… of bacon! But I digress.
I arrived in Coram, New York, at 4:58. It was still dark out, and I wanted to get at least a little nap in before setup for the Long Island Bacon Fest started at 7. So I did what any rational person would: I looked for a parking lot where I could clandestinely catch some shuteye. The Hampton Inn was full of cars and had a security guard patrolling the perimeter. After a brief drive-through, I turned onto the attached road that led to a senior living center. I pulled into the parking spot at 5:25, reclined my seat, used my jacket as a blanket, set my alarm for 6:50 and closed my eyes.
You’re out of your *bleeping* mind, I thought to myself, before I drifted to sleep. Everyone to whom I’ve told the story thinks I’m insane, and they’re right, but what other recourse did I have?
The alarm rang at 6:50 and I sprang awake. No hitting the “snooze” button like usual. I put my seat back up and looked to my right. I don’t know when this woman pulled into the adjacent spot, but she was looking directly at me through her window. Busted.
I no-keys-push-to-started the car and high-tailed it out of there. Ten minutes later, I arrived at All Star Arena, where the event was being held, and began the unloading and setup process. I was done by 8 and grabbed a bagel and coffee from across the street. The event was to start at 10, and already by 9 a long line had formed. By the time the doors opened, that line had snaked around the block. From the very beginning, it was obvious this event would be an entirely different, more gargantuan and voracious beast than the NYC Craft Beer Fest.
Each of the first four people to approach the stand and sample bought gift packs. Boom, $180 in sales in five minutes. Things picked up from there. I was on my feet for six hours straight from 10-4. The line consistently went 50-60 deep, with some folks waiting upwards of 30 minutes to get a taste of The Bacon Jams. I started with 12 cases of All Original, 10 cases of Red Chile & Garlic and 8 cases of Black Pepper. At six jars per case, that’s a total of 180. By 12:30, I was completely out of the All Original. Operating solo and with a line of potential customers that was only growing, I announced that I had to go to my car to get the other cases of All Original I brought with me and pleaded for a little patience. My neighbor, Michael Rogak of the famous Jomart Chocolates in Brooklyn (selling chocolate-covered bacon at the event), was gracious enough to step in and take over sampling despite not exactly knowing, well, anything about the product.
“I’ve heard you say the same thing over and over for hours,” he said. “I can do this for a few minutes.”
“You’re the man,” I exalted, before running outside.
After returning with the rest of the inventory five minutes later, I profusely thanked Michael and resumed sampling and selling with a level of vigor that would’ve made the Energizer Bunny envious. By 2, the rest of the All Original had sold out too, but the line remained robust. People didn’t care, they wanted our bacon jams. Only have Red Chile & Garlic and Black Pepper left? Cool, those are also amazing, take my money and give them to me. Things started to slow down, finally, at 4 as the crowd thinned out. I had four total cases of product left in the booth after completing my final sale at 4:30 and, for the first time in six-and-a-half hours, sat down and took a deep breath. Michael, who had his two daughters there helping him, looked over as I slouched backwards in the seat with my arms hanging at my sides.
“I’ve never seen anything like what you just did on your own,” he said. “I got exhausted watching you. Tremendous job. That was some serious hustle.”
“Thanks, man, I had no idea what to expect here and really appreciate that,” I replied. “Now, let’s talk about getting our sweet All Original bacon jam into your store for both retail and inclusion in your confectionary creations.”
Michael smiled and handed me his card. “We’ll be in touch,” he said.
I then got a phone call from Papa Boar Bruce.
“Are… are these sales numbers accurate?” He asked, incredulously.
“Yes, they are,” I replied. “I know, complete and utter insanity.”
“Holy… wow!” Bruce exclaimed. “We’ve gotta be in New York.”
“No question,” I said. “And I’m going to make it happen.”
I cleaned the booth, loaded up my car, chugged the 5-Hour Energy I strategically bought the night before and started the three-hour drive home to Philadelphia. A spectacularly successful weekend and one hell of a story. New York loves The Bacon Jams, and The Bacon Jams loves New York! I wouldn’t say I felt satisfied by my accomplishments that weekend, so much as motivated to establish a retail presence in New York and infiltrate the market permanently.
I woke up the next morning and emailed Michael to thank him again for his assistance and for being a good guy in general.
“It's always best at a festival (and in life) to have a good neighbor,” he wrote back. “I am glad all worked out well for all of us.”
I returned to New York on Thursday night, March 19, for the Spring Craft Beer Festival at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island on Saturday, March 21. But first, on Friday morning, I made a special visit to Jomart Chocolates to see Michael. He graciously welcomed me to the store and gave me a full tour. We reminisced about the event and then spoke about life, business and where we might cross paths again. I left a jar of All Original for sampling and told him to include it in cakes, brownies, cookies, everything they make. I also told him if he’s not interested in wholesale for retail purposes, we could talk about foodservice when we launch that channel in the upcoming months.
Oh, by the way: We sold out of All Original and Red Chile & Garlic at the Spring Craft Beer Festival on Saturday.
Hey, New York City: The Bacon Jams is coming.