When Bryan Cohen moved back to Lansdale from Ohio in 2010, he was simply looking for a nice suburban neighborhood where he could raise his kids. It wasn’t until he began to smell the smoke wafting from his neighbors’ yards that he realized he’d lucked into a rabidly barbecue-centric corner of suburbia.
“The way we got connected was providence,” Cohen says, leaning against a rack filled with dry rubs in the MontCo shop of the neighbors’ new enterprise, Bespoke Bacon. “We’re all tortured foodies. All three of us not only like food, but we want to make something awesome and different. I could have bought a house anywhere, and I buy a house next to two guys who love food as much as I do.”
Cohen’s house directly abuts Kevin Weidamoyer’s — they’ve cut a hole in their shared fence to allow their kids easier access to each other’s yards. Third partner Brian Wolfinger lives three doors down, and once the three of them got together it didn’t take long before the juices started flowing.
“It was maybe the second or third time I met Brian that we sat down and accidentally came up with the idea for the company,” Cohen recalls. “The three of us were sitting on our friend’s back porch drinking beer at his son’s birthday party, and Brian said, ‘I want to make some bacon.’”
The trio started brainstorming recipes and taste-testing them on family and friends; by their second hundred-pound batch of pork bellies, they were receiving offers to buy the savory results. Bespoke Bacon’s website went up last October, while the nascent business was still being run out of their homes. In March, they shifted operations to a 400-square-foot space in a former meat-processing facility in Telford, where they share cooler space with a butcher shop.
“We had dates where our wives would come over, the kids would be playing, and three or four of us would be standing over the table slicing stuff up. It really is the essence of a homegrown business,” Cohen says, casting a glance around the shop. “The wives don’t come up here anymore. This is more of a man cave.”
Bespoke Bacon gets its name from their made-to-order attitude, emphasizing the company’s artisanal approach and ability to custom-design flavors. Not everyone quite gets the name. Some have misread it as “Bes’ Poke,” a drawling approximation of “Best Pork” — a misinterpretation that the partners don’t mind.
The company sources its pork bellies from family-owned farms within a 100-mile radius of Philadelphia, unless they receive special requests for specific breeds. All of their bacon is dry-cured, as opposed to the wet-cure method used by major manufacturers in which a brine is injected into the meat, speeding the process. Once the cure is applied, the pork ages for seven to 10 days, then is cold-smoked over charcoal or wood for about eight hours to impart the smoke flavor without fully cooking the meat.
“Bacon in and of itself is incredibly easy to make,” Cohen says. “You basically need salt and time.”
What sets Bespoke’s bacon apart, they say, is their reliance on the traditional dry-curing method and their flavors. They currently offer a dozen variants, from basic cures to Jamaican jerk, honey apple, Szechuan and “Volcano,” which combines the three hottest peppers known to man. (That last one was designed for a group of U.S. Marshals who were looking for something more scorching than Bespoke’s jalapeño-cilantro flavor.) They’re constantly looking for new flavor combinations (“I made a tequila one that was horrible,” Cohen shrugs) and uses for their own product — Weidamoyer suggests the Bloody Mary flavor for BLTs.
They’ve also recently started offering pancetta and guanciale, and hope to add a curing chamber for salami and other Italian cured meats. They’ve teamed up with their neighboring business, Back Home Butcher Shop, to offer a bacon burger with Bespoke’s bacon mixed into the patties. Prism Brewing in North Wales has created a chocolate stout using their bacon, which Bespoke has then turned into a bacon jam. Next month, they’ll offer a course at Audrey Claire’s Cook on basic meat curing and recipes utilizing bacon. “Most people who eat bacon eat it in the morning for breakfast,” Cohen says. “That just means there’s two other meals where you’re not eating bacon.”
Family men with day jobs (Cohen manages web development for a pharmaceutical company, Weidamoyer is a tree surgeon and stay-at-home dad, Wolfinger is a VP at a digital-forensics firm), the Bespoke team splits the difference between food snobs and six-packers. “I’m the average Joe,” Weidamoyer says, gesturing to his T-shirt and jeans. “The other day I had to wear a suit and it had my senior-prom ticket in the pocket. So we’re reaching out to everybody.”
The obstacle for most average Joes, they realize, is price. They offer their bacon for $10.99 a pound, a steep increase over the supermarket variety. “Most people don’t have a brand preference for bacon,” Cohen admits. “Ask somebody what their favorite bacon is, and it’s whatever’s cheapest. You can get two pounds for six bucks, and it might be the crappiest bacon you’ve ever had, but it’s still bacon — it’s like pizza, it’s still good. But we want to be like a microbrew of bacon.”
There’s a camaraderie that characterizes the Bespoke atmosphere, one which has simply transferred the backyard barbecue into a small industrial facility. Grunge from the ’90s plays from an iPhone, while the company’s T-shirts reference the latest YouTube craze or make smirking puns like “Bacon Gives Me a Lardon.”
“We’re doing this because we enjoy it and because we’re three passionate food guys,” Cohen says. “We don’t have to pay the mortgage with the money we make here.”
“Once it stops being fun, that’s when it’s work,” Weidamoyer adds. “And we don’t want to work.”
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