by Brian Cullen
I’ve always admired Fritz Maytag.
For those of you who don’t know the name, just know that he was a young man who was born into some well-to-do circumstances. After all, his family started a pretty successful company. In fact, come to think of it, they started two.
So imagine that you’re a young man with a degree from Stanford and a future that’s perfectly laid out before you. All you have to do is pick one or the other: cheese or dryers. Both guaranteed, secure futures, which will probably yield lots and lots of money. So which do you choose? Heads? Or tails?
Now consider this: what if the coin landed on its side? What if you took control and created a third option?
That’s what Fritz Maytag did. In 1965 he purchased the Anchor Brewing Company and transformed it from a struggling business into a household name. Even casual beer fans have heard of “Anchor Steam.” It was all thanks to an enthusiastic gentleman who decided the safe choice – “same old same old” – wasn’t for him. So he bet it all big and came out victorious on the other side.
Fritz Maytag very much reminds me of Wesley Klein.
Wesley Klein is the owner of The Baconery, an establishment in the Upper West Side of Manhattan that – if you’re not a fan of portmanteaus (…portmanteux?) – is one half “bakery” and one half “bacon.” In other words, it is a bakery, where everything is made with bacon.
I’ll repeat that, because it bears repeating: it is a bakery where everything is made with bacon.
I’ll give you all a moment.
Ok, everyone good? Pure dopamine didn’t come shooting out of your nose? Ok good. Let’s continue.
Typically, here’s where I would try to explain to skeptics that “no no, the sweet and savory thing really does work” etc etc. But from everyone I’ve talked to, and everyone Klein has encountered, the general reaction is pure joy. “People are in awe,” he told me. And it’s easy to understand why. The first moment you step into The Baconery, a smell hits your brain that’s part baked goods, part premium, world-class bacon (seriously — no grocery store shenanigans here. But more on that later). It’s mesmerizing. It’s as if…nope. Nuh-uh. I’m not going for the zany, over-the-top metaphor here. Not this time. It’s just…awesome.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. To appreciate what makes The Baconery so cool, you need to know about the man behind it all.
Wesley Klein spent 15 years working for a major electronics retailer (seriously, one of the big ones). After a decade and a half, including what had to be some dreadful Black Fridays, he just walked away. He told me that he felt like life was passing him by, and that “I felt like I was in Groundhog’s Day.” So he left. Just like that.
How cool is that!? How many times have you been in a rut at work, and just barely dragging yourself through each day, only to meet a 55-hour reprieve for the weekend and then going back to it again on Monday? At any point, did you say, “I’m going to combine my two favorite things – no matter how disparate they may be – and then that will be a new thing that I will sell for a living”? (In my case, my dog-friendly kazoos – “Kazoonines” – are not doing as well as expected). Like me – like most of us – after you had this thought, you got a cup of coffee and sadly slogged through another week. Wesley Klein said “nope!” and he made something new.
So now, you have a place where you can get bacon cookies, bacon cupcakes, bacon brownies, bacon dog treats, chocolate-dipped bacon, pretzel rods dipped in chocolate and covered in bacon. Bacon caramels. How about a slice of bacon, that’s been dipped in chocolate, AND THEN COVERED IN BACON CRUMBLES!? WHAT!? How!? When!? Where!? Like – after the interview, I purchased around $20 just for my own personal consumption. I do not know what happened to that bacon. I went home, and I opened the box, and then I blacked out. When I came to, my dog was hungrily licking my face and it was three days later. It’s absolute silliness.
Now, then. Many of us have had some kind of cool, innovative idea at one point or the other. But the impressive about Wesley Klein is that not only did he have the guts to go for it, but because he’s doing it in the right way. First off – “Baconery” is trademarked. Can’t use that. Secondly, check out the website. Perfect color scheme. Sharp writing. Clean design. It’s a great representation of the brand.
What about the product itself? Well, the bacon in stock isn’t something you’d pick up at the corner store. It’s Niman’s from Georgia, Nueske’s from Wisconsin, Brooklyn Cured from Utica (HA! No. It’s from Brooklyn) and Benton’s from Tennessee. Understand that this is world class, premium stuff (by the way, they’ll sell you the bacon itself if you don’t have a sweet tooth). I’m a jerk because I forgot to ask about the chocolate, but even I could tell this wasn’t a melted dime store chocolate bar. In short, Wesley Klein is going about it in the right way. This isn’t some two-bit Geocities-driven operation, like that time in 1997 when I tried to sell catapults for rats (ratapults dot com). This is a cool, funky idea. But this is also well-constructed business making a high quality product.
So what does the future hold for The Baconery? Not even Wesley Klein knows. During my visit, I overheard him showing a customer the menu, but encouraging him to check out The Baconery’s website regularly because it changes all the time. Case in point: at no point, during my pre-visit research did I find any mention of savory foods. So when I asked if The Baconery was planning on expanding their menu to sandwiches etc., I was surprised to find out that they already had four sandwiches in the menu. Mac and cheese is around the corner too. Who knows what else? There are even a few desserts that are in the works that I’ve been sworn to secrecy over.
Whether or not Wesley Klein realizes it, I suspect he’s slowly building a bacon empire, brick by brick. In addition to their baked goods, at their online store you can also order a bacon spatula (rights owned by The Baconery. They invented it.) as well as a bacon wallet, bacon cookie cutter, and a pig shaped cutting board. Plus, see all those t-shirts for all? All designed by The Baconery. They’re releasing three new ones every three months. In fact, during my visit, Klein was wearing a Baconery shirt specifically designed for the New York Comic Con, which, in retrospect, I absolutely should have asked if they had in stock.
And if that’s not all – they’re working on getting their liquor license, so they can get their hands on items such as Bakon Vodka. “Who knows?,” said Klein, “Maybe we’ll do ‘Baconery After Dark’ or something.”
Point is, Wesley Klein, I think, is building more than a bakery. He’s building an experience. And by the time this article gets published, it will already be outdated. The speed at which the folks at The Baconery are inventing – and perfecting – cool, quality, unbelievably tasty products is staggering.
Guys, as recently as a month ago, I thought this “bacon” thing was a big dumb trend that the internet was overreacting to and cramming down our throats. Well, I’m a jerk. Because frankly, I’m thrilled that there are folks like Wesley Klein willing to take chances on some new ideas that turn out to be incredible. So please, for your own sake, support a small business and treat yourself to some amazing food. If you can’t make it to the store, remember, you can order everything from The Baconery online, and they ship everywhere. Here’s the link again. And Wesley, if you’re reading this: if I’ve added to the holiday rush, I’m sorry for the extra work. But you deserve it. Cheers.
Brian Cullen really, really enjoys robots but doesn’t understand how they work. He also enjoys drinking beers, and has a pretty solid understanding of how that works. You can read about his musings about both on Twitter @BucketCullen.