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Bringing Home the Bacon

Lynn and Cele Seldon / June 2013

Birmingham, Alabama—With 30-plus locations and counting, including Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and the Carolinas, as well as two Colorado locations in greater Denver, Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q goes through about four million pounds of pork a year. From the time Jim and Nick Pihakis opened their first restaurant 28 years ago, the company sourced from far-flung farmers and processors. Now, Nick Pihakis is setting a pork precedent by bringing his hogs “in-house” in a big way.

Dubbed the “Fatback Pork Project,” Nick has worked for more than five years to establish an infrastructure where feed, breed, and growing environment are all controlled. By contracting with a limited number of select farmers to grow heritage breed hogs, purchasing and operating his own processing plant in Eva, Alabama (the company is based in Birmingham), and then quickly getting it on the road, Nick will supply all of his restaurants with his own pork. He’s already talking to select chefs and restaurants searching for a better product at a good price.

“We want to influence the pork industry in a way that makes raising heritage hogs economically viable for farmers,” says Nick, who adds that he’s providing farmers with a guaranteed rate of pay. The hogs are being fed a 100 percent vegetarian diet of grains and foraged food, and being raised without hormones or antibiotics. Nick says they’ll only be raised in the Southeast and, thus far, just in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

Production began in late February, and the plant is gearing up to process more than 300 hogs a week, with a full-time USDA inspector on-site. Nick is rolling out the new pork in select Jim ‘N Nick’s locations in barbecue sandwiches and platters. Eventually, all of the restaurants will only use pork from the Fatback Pork Project.

Other restaurants are next. Nick also co-founded the “Fatback Collective,” a loosely organized group of chefs, pitmasters, and pork eaters in search of “porkfection.” Member friends include Sean Brock, Rodney Scott, John Currence, and Donald Link.