Josh Henderson, Skillet Street Food owner and chef, began his post-Culinary Institute of America career in a vintage Airstream trailer retrofitted with a commercial kitchen in 2007, serving up innovative lunch fare to the Seattle crowds who follow it on Facebook and Twitter.
As a founding father of the street-food trend, Mr. Henderson elevated lunch with dishes such as poutine (French fries with cheese and gravy), and a Kobe beef burger. But it was the topping on the burger-- bacon jam -- that really intrigued customers. So Skillet Street began selling it by the jar, 10 or 15 per month. In the fall of 2009, Martha Stewart recommended the condiment as a holiday gift, and sales leaped to 10,000 jars in one month.
Marketing has remained true to Skillet's homegrown roots, relying on word-of-mouth, aided by seeding products to food and mommy bloggers as well as big-name chefs. Rachael Ray recently chose Skillet Bacon Jam as a fall food favorite, and "Good Morning America" food editor Sara Moulton chose its new sibling, pumpkin sauce, as a top pick at the annual Fancy Food Show foodie confab.
Today, Skillet Street Food is a separate division selling through 300 retailers in the U.S. and Canada, including Whole Foods. A brick-and-mortar Skillet Diner opened in May to rave reviews and long lines, and was named one of Seattle Magazine's best new restaurants for 2011. Revenue has soared from $600,000 in 2010 to more than $3 million in 2011. Coming out in May is Mr. Henderson's first Skillet Street cookbook. The Skillet-branded pumpkin sauce will be followed by more innovative products in the works, Mr. Henderson said.
"Bacon jam on its own is unique, but what hooks people is the romantic idealism of life on the trailer. ... That's the tale that people gravitate to," Mr. Henderson said. Added General Manager Greg Petrillo: "It's the secret -- that people think they know something no one else does, that works."