I saw somebody’s dog dressed as bacon for Halloween this year. The dog looked adorable—albeit in a morbid sort of way—and at the time I just giggled and walked on without giving much thought as to why somebody would want to garb their Shih Tzu in a foam, bacon-shaped ensemble…
Mainly because the answer is pretty obvious: bacon is not just food, but an icon of American foodie culture.
Three chefs recognized the bizarre cultural phenomenon of the pork belly and have created a business specifically for one reason: to create new and exciting flavors of artisan style, Ohio-centric bacon under the outfit 1803 Bacon.
Why 1803? Well, that is the year Ohio was founded, a factoid that got me a scowl when I had to ask.
I met co-owners Jared Welsch and “Chef Tony” Terrell in a rental kitchen in The Commissary, a culinary warehouse and rental kitchen space. Both chefs wore extravagantly curly mustaches and held mops. The familiar smell of fried pork belly filled the high ceilings of the culinary warehouse, sending me into a wistful, mouthwatering bacon trance. They had just cooked six pounds of the goods for an elimination-style cooking event, Knife Fight, that would use their bacon as this month’s secret ingredient. Terrell, covered in colorful tattoos, handed me a piece of a new recipe, BBQ Bacon, which was thick and juicy— the sweet tones of brown sugar and barbeque tickled my taste buds, signaling me to sigh loudly and take a seat.
For now, their business is in its experimentation phase, the boys currently crafting new and exciting bacon formulas and selling them by the pound out of their car and at events. Their master plan is to open a brick and mortar bacon-themed bar and diner in Columbus by spring, the menu consisting of curious and exciting smoked delicacies, like bacon-wrapped cheese stuffed dates, bacon grease bread pudding, and new and exotic bacon flavors like Bloody Mary, Apple Pie Moonshine, and Hot Cocoa.
Oh, bacon and beer pairings? You bet your ass. The diner would also include an in house butcher shop for all of your ham, bacon, and prosciutto needs. And if your heart is hurting that day, they will have salads, just don’t forget the hot bacon dressing.
“We try not to treat bacon as a condiment, but as the centerpiece of the meal,” Terrell said. “We try to create dishes that are centered around our bacon flavors; we want to put a unique twist on it, but still be bacon.”
Terrell, a chocolatier living in South California, moved back to Columbus to be closer to his family. He met his partner Welsch, a cicerone-certified barbeque pit boss, while working at as a chef at Giant Eagle market place, where they decided to open a bacon business.
“I remember we were drinking some beers at a bar, and I just kind of had this idea of a bacon-themed craft beer bar, with a bacon-themed menu. I had asked [Terrell] if he had made bacon before, and he said yes. So, we just kind of mulled together and started having parties in his backyard.”
These backyard BBQ jams consisted of a couple kegs of Rhinegeist and the two meat masters frying up 50 pounds of their locally sourced bacon flavors for family and friends. Eventually, their bacon began to gain traction, so once they heard the first annual Bacon Fest 15 was having its event in the Columbus Commons this last September, they found it to be an obvious opportunity to show off their goods.
“When we found out, we went into a complete panic mode looking for a kitchen, getting our health license, food vendors license, and all that stuff,” Terrell said. That is when they found The Commissary, which was still in its infancy, which let them in with open arms. Once they were set for the festival, it was time to put their bacon to the test.
“Let’s see if people really want to eat our bacon,” Terrell said.
They went to Bacon Fest with 350 pounds of bacon and sold all but 20. “If we would have brought a higher sweet-to-savory ratio, I have no doubt we would have sold out,” said Welsch. “People really noticed our sweet stuff.”
The ingredients they use for their bacon recipes are locally sourced—Snowville Creamery, North Market Spices, CaJohns condiments—as well as pork from Sweet Meadow Farms and booze from Watershed. Stauf’s Coffee even roasted a specific blend for them to use for their Maple Espresso bacon. The bacon either goes through a wet-rub or dry-rub phase, depending on the recipe, where it soaks in delicious juices or spices for just under a week. After that, the bacon is smoked and chilled for a day. From there, it is packaged, labeled, and readied for your kitchen.
Though the business is just starting to gain momentum, it is obvious that their team is serious about getting the flavors right and getting them to the people.
“Because this is artisan bacon, we are not packaging it and selling it to a grocer wholesale,” he said.