Posted September 09, 2015
By Dining Out Luckily, the Duffy brothers figure that they get along 95-percent of the time. Maybe it’s that impressive statistic of brotherly love that makes their Tender Belly pork products so damn delicious. We sat down with Erik and Shannon Duffy to ham it up about their Iowa roots, Tender Belly’s origins, and their athlete sponsorship program. Here are nine facts about Tender Belly and the Duffys that you need to know: 1. They didn’t realize how good they had pork until it was gone. The Duffys’ grandfather had a hog farm back in Iowa, so they were exposed to farming and delicious pork from the beginning. “We always had bada** pork chops at grandma and grandpa’s house,” Erik remembers. “Except that they always overcooked them. Back in the day, you ‘killed’ it twice.” While the brothers did spend a lot of time on the farm, they never grew up thinking they wanted to get into the family business. But then, when Erik was working in a restaurant in Arizona, he realized that pork as good as they had access to in Iowa simply didn’t exist out west. “That’s what got us going in this direction,” he explains. 2. Erik started perfecting his bacon recipe in his garage. A lot of great things come out of garages–bands, beer, and … bacon. Determined to create superior pork products, Erik began tinkering with recipes during weekends in his garage. 3. Tender Belly wouldn’t exist if Shannon hadn’t been fired from his job selling commercial business products. Just two weeks after getting engaged and buying a house, Shannon’s boss gave him the boot. In a moment of desperation in the parking lot outside his former office, he called Erik, who lived in Arizona at the time, and said, “we’ve got to make this [a bacon business] work.” This was not the first time Shannon had been fired. “Neither one of us is super employable,” Shannon admits. His previous job selling enterprise software had also ended in termination. The Duffys have their own ideas about how to make things better and doing things their own way. In 2010, they officially established Tender Belly, and soon after, Erik moved to Colorado. 4. To find hogs that meet their high standards, the Duffys source from nearly 200 small family farms. Seven of those farms are in Colorado, and the 150-185 others are in Iowa, Missouri, and other Midwestern states. For the Duffys, the way pigs are raised is more important than just being local. Tender Belly sources pork raised in an environmentally responsible, humane fashion with a 100-percent vegetarian diet and zero antibiotics or hormones. “The farmers raise to our specs and we pay them a higher price to do a better job,” Shannon says. “We’re happier, farmers are happier and making better money, the animals are treated better, and the chefs get better product.” Basically, a win-win for all parties involved. 5. One day, the Duffys hope to have a farm of their own. “We talk about it all the time,” Shannon says. When they do get around to establishing their own farm, it wouldn’t be limited just to hogs. While they may be pork fans, their diets don’t revolve around it. “We love bacon and we love pork, but we’re not that guy slamming bacon in his face 10 times a day.” 6. Tender Belly sponsors several athletes with shipments of pork products. Finally, a company that produces real food rather than sugary sports drinks and goo gets behind athletes! Erik and Shannon both prioritize staying healthy and playing outside, so they decided to support the people that do that for a living. The Tender Belly roster includes pro skiers, snowboarders, triathletes, Crossfit competitors, and, most recently, Sean Swarner, the first cancer survivor to summit all seven of the world’s highest peaks—with only one lung. 7. The Duffys do what they want. “There’s no sophisticated business plan behind Tender Belly other than we started a company to do exactly what we want, exactly when we want to do it,” Shannon reveals, “and what we want to do is make the world’s best bacon.” 8. If they could only enjoy pork one way for the rest of their life, this is how it would be … Shannon would rub a bone-in pork chop with salt and pepper and grill it to medium rare. Erik would live out his days eating a Berkshire porterhouse the way Chef Bill Greenwood from Beano’s Cabin restaurant in Beaver Creek prepares it: with heirloom antebellum grits, honey-glazed carrots, and apple preserves. They also love seeing all the innovative dishes chefs create around their pork. “There’s a guy in Arizona doing pickled pigs’ feet,” Erik says. “He puts it on toast points or crostini.” 9. Their stance on keeping potbellied pigs as pets is decidedly neutral, in case you were wondering. “I don’t care what people do,” Erik says, “but I have no desire to have a potbellied pig.” “Whatever floats your boat,” Shannon adds. “Hopefully, they treat them right.” On Tender Belly’s Horizon What’s next for Tender Belly? The Duffys are in the process of moving to a new, larger facility to accommodate the growth they’ve seen in recent years. Other than that, they’re happy with where the company currently stands. Tender Belly is now available in Arizona, Texas, Southern California, and throughout Colorado. “Work’s good, life’s good,” Shannon says. You can find Tender Belly on local menus at restaurants like Comida, Denver Biscuit Company, Linger, Panzano, and SALT. If you want to get your hands on Tender Belly’s pork to cook at home, join the Bacon Every Month Club, order online, or look for their products at local specialty markets.