For many people, waking up to the smell of bacon is reserved for vacations and special occasions. Andrew Motta (Business Admin. Finance ’09) has cooked up a business plan that has him surrounded by the savoury scent all day.
Motta is the owner of bar and eatery Bacon Nation, located in Toronto’s trendy Kensington Market.
With a brunch menu featuring items such as breakfast bacon poutine and smoked bacon ceasars, and an array of burgers with names such as Pig Mac and Porkfection, Bacon Nation aims to unite fellow Bacon Lovers while celebrating one of Canada’s featured foods.
Motta and his brother first launched Bacon Nation at the 2012 Canadian National Exhibition to wild success. The food truck continues to have a presence at the CNE each year, featuring items such as a bacon-wrapped deep-fried Mars Bars and bacon-wrapped grilled cheese sandwiches — the top-selling item ever at the CNE, moving just over 10,000 units in 18 days. In 2018, The Golden Burger – a five-ounce patty with two types of bacon, cheddar and onion rings sandwiches in a 24-karat gold-crusted bun – sizzled at the CNE’s iconic food building.
While the CNE is still a major event for Bacon Nation, today, Motta is focused on growing his restaurant business. Here, Motta shares how creativity and adaptability are the bread and butter (or bacon and eggs) of his business:
What was the inspiration behind Bacon Nation?
Bacon Nation has become my first born. My first real business. Every year at the CNE they offer up new locations in the food building, and the key to getting one of those prime spots is to offer something that’s not already there. Something that no one’s ever seen before. One night I was working away in my basement, looking at YouTube videos, and my brother and I thought of the concept for Bacon Nation. It was so unique at the time that we got that marquee spot we were looking for.
The CNE is known for its crazy food offerings, so I’m surprised that you two were the first to use bacon as a centrepiece.
I’ve worked at the food building at the CNE since the early 2000s – it was my first summer job. My brother and I were working there before the food building became so popular. We were among some of the vendors that brought it back to life in 2011, garnishing food with wild toppings and building up its reputation. One of our first items that got a lot of buzz back in 2012 was our bacon-wrapped deep-fried Mars Bar.
What were some of your first steps in building the Bacon Nation business?
Looking back, trying to build the business at the CNE, it was all about brainstorming what over-the-top menu items would grab headlines, then crafting our menu around that. We asked ourselves about what buzz words or food trends we were hearing about, and how we could add those to a normal food experience like a burger or BLT. We’d bounce ideas off friends, and the crazier they told me the idea was, the more I knew I was on track for the CNE.
How have you been able to develop the Bacon Nation brand over the years?
The CNE stuff was easier because we’d been doing it for so long, and it’s not tricky to come up with ways to make the menu items more wild. It was harder to adapt those over-the-top items into a menu that customers would want to return to regularly. That process was about honing our brand to find out what the regular 9-to-5ers want to eat for lunch, or what would draw a family to come to our eatery on a Friday night.
How did you do that?
First, we had a testing spot at Queen and Spadina that helped us a lot. We were able to test a lot of food items and find our identity. A lot of people connect bacon with breakfast, so we started developing the idea of launching an all-day breakfast and a really cool brunch menu that we were able to set up when found our spot in Kensington Market. We do a really great breakfast poutine that uses hollandaise sauce instead of traditional gravy. It works out really well because Kensington Market is a top spot for tourists to come to when they visit Toronto, so they’re also looking to try Canadian food. We really bumped up the Canadian branding in our décor and outside the restaurant so people know they can come to us to try Canadian food.
"I remember graduating and wanting to take over the world. You have a real rush of adrenaline. It’s good to have that energy, but make sure you take the time to hone in on what you’re trying to deliver."
How has your role changed since launching at the CNE to now owning an eatery?
I still dabble in everything. I do accounting and payroll, I still work on the line with my guys, cooking and bartending. I still work in the food truck at the CNE. I think that’s the lifestyle entrepreneurs take on — you have to wear many hats.
What have been some career highlights?
Our biggest success was that first year, getting that key spot in the CNE food building. We’ve been fortunate enough that our menu items have gotten a lot of buzz, and last year we really grabbed a lot of headlines with our Gold Burger. Our biggest claim to fame is our bacon-wrapped grilled cheese, which is the top-selling item ever at the CNE, just over 10,000 units in 18 days.
What do you hope for the future of Bacon Nation?
Going forward, we’re looking into opening our second location, and maybe starting a franchise. And we’ll keep setting up our food truck at the CNE. Ideally, we can translate the customers we get from the CNE into regular customers. It provides such a great platform for us to get our messaging out there, and to tell customers they can have our food more than once a year.
Any advice for future entrepreneurs?
I remember graduating and wanting to take over the world. You have a real rush of adrenaline. It’s good to have that energy, but make sure you take the time to hone in on what you’re trying to deliver. You can’t take over the world in a week. Plan things out and take it step by step. The skills I learned at Sheridan are the skills I still use today, so take time to nurture, hone, and apply those skills. It pays off in dividends.