Fast-forward to today and you have one of my absolute favorite places in the world to eat burgers. It literally is the Super Bowl of BACON here everyday. We’re not talking little sissy In-N-Out Burgers; we’re talkin’ 1/3, 2/3, and 1-pound burgers. Not to mention just about anything and everything comes with bacon.
If you saw the news on Friday you may have heard of “IT”: Slater’s 50/50 burger of the month - “The ‘Merica”. This burger is made of 100% ground BACON. It is topped with thick cut bacon, a sunny side up egg, “Bacon Island” dressing, and bacon cheddar cheese. This burger is probably the coolest thing I have ever tasted. It is all bacon. You have to live, to love and to loathe bacon in order to really appreciate just how awesome this is when it meets your taste buds.
I got down there and set up to eat The ‘Merica burger. It was like receiving every single gift you have ever wanted as a kid - all at the same time. It’s overwhelming but at the same time I was so overjoyed with excitement that I could hardly contain myself. Servers would walk by asking if I was OK and all I could do was laugh. I mean, it was heaven. I had to eat it slow so I could savor every bite. The juices from the dressing and the egg were just enough to give the burger that perfect level of moistness and decadence. I couldn’t finish but let’s just say I’ll be back for more.
|'Merica Burger 100% Bacon, Bacon Island Dressing, Thick Cut Bacon, and Sunny Side Up Egg.|
I sat down with legend, owner, and President of Slater’s 50/50, Scott Slater, to see what it’s like to be the “Sir Charles Bronson” of burger restaurants…
MEAT ME: How did Slater’s 50/50 come to be?
Scott Slater: It’s funny. I found the location first and then developed the menu. I have been making the signature 50/50 burger for about 10 years while tailgating at San Diego Chargers games. We didn’t want traditional tailgate food like hot dogs or brats. We wanted bacon but you can’t really cook bacon on a grill so we made 100% bacon burgers.
MEAT ME: 100% BACON?
Scott Slater: 100% Ground bacon burgers!
MEAT ME: And how are those?
Scott Slater: It is our burger of the month this month- the “‘merica”. It’s pretty damn good. They are a little sloppy. I couldn’t imagine when I opened the restaurant serving those just because they were so outrageously decadent. Adding beef to the bacon would give it a little bit of integrity, juice, and flavor. That’s how it all started; out of necessity, I guess.
|The 50/50, Peanut Butter & Jealousy, and Fried Chicken & Pancakes.|
MEAT ME: How did you come up with the idea of combining the beef and bacon?
Scott Slater: When we found the restaurant space, we were trying to come up with a menu. We were making the bacon burgers the whole time and when we started adding beef, we called it “The 50/50”. I thought that’s a cool name - Slater’s 50/50. Boom, that’s it! It’s really wasn’t as magical as some people think.
When I opened the restaurant I was a young guy and I didn’t have a lot of money or time. I had to open up pretty quickly because I was running out of money. It took me 30 days to get the location to fit, paint to match, get a menu together and hire some staff and start bringing in some dough.
|Peanut Butter & Jealousy.|
MEAT ME: What is your background in restaurants?
Scott Slater: When I was 15 I was a dishwasher. That was my first job and I’ve been in the restaurant industry since. I worked in the back of the house, front of the house; I managed a little bit. I know what I like. There are a lot of these gastro pubs out there that are fancy but I like to keep it simple but at the same time come up with some original ideas using simple high quality ingredients.
MEAT ME: With bacon being a trend and a lot of burger joints popping up what are some of your influences and inspirations?
Scott Slater: I have pretty common taste buds and I enjoy a lot of the same foods most people do. I go to other burger restaurants to do some recon missions and of course, get some ideas. For example, I found my bread company from one of my competitors. I can’t say the same for my signature burgers. Certainly service and ordering styles were inspired from other restaurants.
I like what we have and what we’ve developed and I don’t want to be mixed in with the others in the burger bubble. At some point I think it is going to burst. We distinguish ourselves with the different facets of our business; a menu full of variety, our great beer selection, the sports bar atmosphere, hard alcohol and a full menu served until 2 am.
I try to branch out as much as possible; good salads and sandwiches and great appetizers like our Vampire Dip. I try to expand the concept as much as possible without diluting it.
There are great burgers places out there that just have burgers. They have great burgers but they can’t fill a 6,500 square foot restaurant. Whereas my restaurants are anywhere from 5,000 to 7,900 square feet and I have to pack the house just to make it worth it.
|Fried Chicken & Pancakes.|
MEAT ME: So what are these 3 items you are featuring here today?
Scott Slater: The 50/50 is our signature burger. It’s got pepper jack cheese, fried egg, with avocado mashed chipotle mayo. The 50/50 also has the 50/50 patty all on the brioche bun. Then we’ve got the Peanut Butter and Jealousy, which is just simple peanut butter and strawberry preserves, thick cut bacon, beef patty and a honey wheat bun. Last is the Fried Chicken and Pancakes; 3 buttermilk pancakes, 3 fried chicken strips, bacon, fried egg and bacon infused country gravy covered in maple syrup.
MEAT ME: Is there a particular type of peanut butter and jelly?
(I am asking because I grew up on PB&J. When I was 7 my Mom took me to the doctor because I would only eat PB&J. I am obsessed with a nice creamy Skippy under seedless Smuckers jam on white. I could tell it was Skippy but I just wanted to make sure.)
Scott Slater: Nope. Skippy. I love Skippy.
The meat is really what ties it all together. We use great quality beef from a single source in Idaho - Sterling Silver. No hormones, no antibiotics - all organically fed. That really speaks for itself.
MEAT ME: When I look at what you’ve got here, at least 2 of these dishes visually, I’m thinking they are going to taste really salty, but they’re not. What is the secret to savoring the flavors and avoiding…?
Scott Slater: A salt bomb? You know we still get complaints that some items are too salty but at the same time you are ordering a bacon burger.
MEAT ME: To me, it wasn’t even close to as salty as looked - like it could have been.
Scott Slater: The beef obviously helps. When you cook ground pork a lot of the fat is rendered out. That’s where a lot of the salt comes from. The ground bacon we use isn’t cured like normal bacon. It’s not strips of bacon that are being ground up. When you cure strips of bacon you use sodium nitrates and that’s where a lot of the salt comes from. We are literally using ground pork bellies.
|The 50/50 Burger.|
MEAT ME: Let’s talk about your bacon ketchup. How long did that take to get right? Where did that come from? There are a lot of bacon flavored products out there and I would say most of them aren’t working.
Scott Slater: We had a couple of trial errors. At first we made our own ketchup. If you taste other people homemade ketchup, they don’t taste anything like ketchup cause they refuse to use corn syrup. A lot of those gastro pubs refuse to even give you ketchup but we are a classic American fare type of restaurant.
MEAT ME: Yea it is really good.
Scott Slater: It’s fantastic and it has little bacon bits in it. We have a ratio that we use because we have so much extra bacon fat to use. Every morning we are baking hundreds and hundreds of pounds of bacon because we go through so much of it so we just pour it into the ketchup. We fat wash our vodka and we fat wash our bourbon. We have a bacon vodka and a bacon bourbon that we do the old fashion way; those two we “baconize” ourselves.
MEAT ME: What are some of your favorites?
Scott Slater: The PB&J. I try not to eat more than 2 burgers a month. I don’t want to ever get tired of my food and so far I’m not. Every time I come into the restaurant I want a burger so I eat the burger of the month or a PB&J on a Sunday and watch some football.
MEAT ME: Now what is your favorite meat?
Scott Slater: Honestly our beef is so good. There is a time and a place for a 50/50 burger. I still eat one every Sunday when I’m watching the Chargers. I go for the beef whenever I eat a burger cause it’s just such high quality. The 50/50 is high quality too and it’s just so juicy. The thing is with pork, bacon and salt is it’s hydroscopic so when you do cook it, it is going to suck a little bit of the moisture out with that salt content. I like my burgers just like I like my steaks medium rare and just bloody. With 50/50 burgers you’re not going to get a bloody burger; you’re going to get a tender burger because of the all pork belly and the fat in it. I like those juices.
MEAT ME: With a lot of people starting restaurants and most people failing, what do you think the key is to being successful?
Scott Slater: Quality product and quality service. It’s no secret. One thing that sets us apart is that we are a sports bar that serves excellent food. How many sports bars are known for their food? It comes down to quality food, consistency and creating a culture of great customer service and making sure that all of our guests not only want to come back but can’t wait until they are hungry again so they have an excuse to come back.
My whole staff, front to back knows that everything that they do comes back to the guest. Everything. The way we do everything, the way that we explain it, this is how we do it because that is what the guest expects.
I know how important customer service is. Where I spend my money is going to have to include good service, it’s an obsession of mine.
MEAT ME: When you first started up were you using a lot of PR to get people in or was it just boom, bang opened the doors and the place just filled up?
Scott Slater: Yea pretty much I opened on a Wednesday and had a wait list by Friday.. Food was taking an hour and fifteen minutes, it was a complete mess. I really had no idea what I was doing. On that 3rd day the whole staff went in the back and said, “Well, we don’t have to worry about people coming back here but we are going to have to start if we don’t get this thing right”. We learned quickly and out of necessity. We put our noses to the grindstone. I was bussing’ tables, washing dishes, waiting tables, bartending and hosting. I started beefing up the staff. We understand that we’re going to screw up every once in a while, a burger is going come out over cooked, and the kitchen is going get backed up. It does happen and we have to make sure that we’re on top of it and recognize when a guest is not having that perfect experience before they walk out the door and give them that second opportunity to enjoy that quality product and service that we are known for.
In the very beginning we did very little campaigning and advertising. Now we have our Marketing VP and once we got on TV that’s when it really took off. We bumped up staff and par levels we were able to sustain that growth. We were actually on United States of Bacon last Sunday.
MEAT ME: Do you guys have any other locations that are opening up in the future?
Scott Slater: Yep – Pasadena, the Mission District in San Francisco and South Orange County. Hopefully 6 more locations in the next year. That would be the dream.
I devoured the Peanut Butter and Jealousy. I had never thought that putting my 2 favorite dishes together was going to make my life perfect. It works! For once I was able to have my cake and eat it too. The hint of salty combined with sweet, the crispy bacon and juicy burger were all bear hugged together by that incredible bun. I still can’t stop thinking about it. It’s one of those things where you look at it and you say, “Ok that looks cool, I’ll try it.” Totally thinking it’s not going to work. You take a bit and right away, “Holy shit! That is stupid good!” That’s exactly what it’s like.
Next was the 50/50 Burger. It’s the burger for everyone. A perfectly balanced meal with a little bit of everything and just enough to keep you engaged for the entire burger. Its’ taste is a wonderful story of flavors that helps tune out the rest of the world. It’s the burger you have at the end of a long day. It hits the spot while leaving you at peace with yourself.
Last, but not even close to least, was the Fried Chicken and Waffles. This was the mullet of meals: All business up front with a giant party in the back. The syrup keeps you grounded with its decadence but the meal slowly evolves into this giant head bangers ball. I wanted to dance, I felt like Bill Cosby in those Jell-O commercials. It really is a classic.
The “United States of Bacon” is a truly awesome show. Thank God I was actually at the restaurant with an already full belly. How often do we make that mistake of watching an epic show about food on an empty stomach? This time I nailed it! Slater’s 50/50 couldn’t look any better and everyone inside was filled with awe and applause.
If you read my blog, it’s because you share the same love, respect and appreciation for food that I do. So you know that you owe it to yourself to enjoy some Slater’s 50/50. I don’t want to hear any excuses. This one should be at the top of every ones bucket list.
You can find out everything you need to know about Slater’s 50/50:
I would like to thank everyone at Slater’s 50/50 for helping me make this happen especially Scott, Erika, and Ali.
Respect the BACON,
aka Sean Rice