BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Nicholas Jones was an MBA student at the University of Notre Dame when he came up with the idea for his Western Idaho Fair concession stand, now in its second year.
Jones, 28, went to a seminar about the ongoing American craze for bacon. There, he had a revelation.
“I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to put it on a stick,’ “ said Jones, who counts himself among the porcine-obsessed.
It’s just the latest venture for Jones, a single dad with a 5-year-old daughter.
His previous projects include running his own public relations/marketing business for a couple of years after graduating with his bachelor’s in business and human resource management from Boise State. He sold that business when he went to graduate school.
“Nick has some idea going through his head at all times. The wheels never stop turning,” said his best friend, Rob Carnes, 34, who met Jones at Boise State and is working at the bacon booth at the fair. “One thing I can say about Nick is that he’s always up for the next adventure.”
For a time after high school, Jones considered a career as a professional ballroom dancer. He discovered his passion for dance at 16, when a girl dragged him to the dance floor.
He became an avid dancer and landed a full-time dancing/teaching job in British Columbia. But he walked away from that to go to college and pursue a career that paid better and allowed him to spend more time with his family.
Jones was an excellent student at BSU and was accepted to MBA programs at two prestigious universities. Heeding the advice of a trusted adviser in BSU’s College of Business and Economics, he chose Notre Dame.
“Because Nick is a single parent, I thought the culture of Notre Dame would be more supportive for him,” said Dusty L. Bodie, a BSU associate professor emeritus who previously worked as assistant manager for career development at Notre Dame’s business college. “As I understand it, that turned out to be true.”
Jones said the university in South Bend, Ind., and his fellow students were incredibly supportive, offering to baby-sit his daughter, Jamie, when he was studying.
“They were always there to help,” he said.
His business pitch to an angel funding group in Chicago with ties to Notre Dame — Irish Angels — was well-received, he said, resulting in $10,000 in seed money to launch Bacon on a Stick at the 2013 fair. He recalls submitting his application to the Western Idaho Fair at the last minute.
Breaking into the market
It’s no small feat to open a new food booth at the fair.
There are currently 54 food stands. Bacon on a Stick was one of just two added in 2013 (the other was Summer Salads), and only two new ones opened this year, Sharky’s Fish Fry and Tres Hermanos Tacos.
Food vendors who have participated in the fair in the past aren’t guaranteed a spot, but they’re generally welcomed back. New booths are added by fair managers when a vendor doesn’t return or they believe the menu offers something new.
“Everybody wants to sell a hot dog, hamburger or corndog,” Director Bob Batista said. “We try to look for something that’s a little unique.”
That food on a stick is associated with the fair helped Jones’ cause, Batista said.
Heeding advice from friends, Jones decided to offer a decadent version of bacon on a stick: Bacon slathered in Ghirardelli chocolate (dark or white). That was his biggest seller last year. It’s back again this year and sells for $5.25.
The menu also includes $6.25 bacon balls — bacon pieces breaded in seasoned cornmeal and fried, with several dipping sauces available - and additions such as the cornhog (like a corndog but with bacon), and pancake bacon on a stick, both $6.
Jones enlisted the help of a friend who is a personal chef to develop the batter for the cornhog, so it would complement the bacon and cook properly. Carnes said Jones personally perfected the pancake bacon.
“He did testing at his mom’s house,” Carnes said. “He wouldn’t give up on it. He found a better recipe to work with, and people love it.”
The Bacon on a Stick booth isn’t as easy as others to find because it’s not on food row — it’s between Gate A and the camel rides. But sales are up because of the booth itself, Jones said. The bright pink tent is harder to miss than the trailer he used last year, and he’s able to serve customers faster.
Jones is working to make his business more than just a seasonal success, and he hopes one day to have a permanent retail location. His booth did brisk business at the Boise Music Festival this year and he’s scheduled to sell at the Idaho Food & Wine Festival, Spirit of Boise and Spokane Pig Out.
Jones’ parents - a retired psychiatric nurse and a farmer-turned-UPS semitrailer driver — are supportive, though his dad sometimes tells him he should “get a real job.”
“I’m supporting myself reasonably with this,” Jones said.
He said he’s saved up enough to pay back the $10,000 loan he received to start the business, but also admits to carrying $6,000 in credit card debt.
To grow his business, he has acquired the website bacononastick.com, submitted an application to trademark Bacon on a Stick and launched a bacon delivery service.
He’ll deliver fresh, Idaho-grown pork to anyone in the Boise area - and there’s no minimum order. Orders can be placed through his website. Currently, he has about 35 customers.
“I had one person call me at 6 a.m., and they wanted bacon,” Jones said. “I brought them bacon.”
Jones’ drive to succeed in business isn’t just about supporting himself and his daughter. In college, he studied issues that developing countries face and wants to make a lot of money to help people in Africa, he said.
With $1,000, he and a friend from Notre Dame set up a company providing small loans to entrepreneurs and small businesses in Kenya, he said.
“He and I hashed out this grand scheme to save the world,” Jones said. “It makes me hurt to see pictures of people without even basic needs.”