Skewer of pork belly at Rodizio Grill's BaconFest
Menus at Brazilian steakhouses don’t vary much, the folks at Rodizio Grill like to have fun. (Photos: Rodizio Grill)

In the world of Brazilian steakhouses, or churrascaria, Rodizio Grill is a rebel of sorts, and it only took one item to start the revolution — bacon.

Salt Lake City, Utah-based Rodizio Grill launched its BaconFest promotion three years ago at a franchise location in Fort Collins, Colorado. Ivan Utrera, president and founder of the company, said the franchisee wanted to run a month-long promotion with bacon-featured items. 

Ivan Utrera, Rodizio Grill
Ivan Utrera, president and founder of Rodizio Grill

“We authorized three or four different recipes,” Utrera said. “Our corporate chef, Eduardo [Duda] Goulart, prepped some recipes for him, and [the franchisee] ran with it.

“I went to check the execution, and I really liked it even though it was very small scale,” Utrera continued. “The next year, I said ‘let’s try to do this promotion for the whole chain, but let’s do a real promotion;’ and that’s when we came up with BaconFest. We just really went all out.”

Authenticity with a twist

But bacon had a place on Rodizio Grill’s menu even before Rodizio Grill launched its first official BaconFest. Utrera founded Rodizio Grill 20 years ago, and one of the first items served was turkey wrapped in bacon. “We have about 15 different skewers of meat that we that we serve in rotation,” Utrera says. “We like to rotate products in and out just to keep the menu fresh. But every time we tried to take turkey with bacon out, we had a revolt. We had people really, really mad…so we haven’t been able to get away from it.”

Instead of fighting customers’ desire for bacon, Rodizio replaced the turkey wrapped in bacon with chicken wrapped in bacon. Diners were hooked and wanted more.

So it wasn’t really a surprise when, the first year, Rodizio did very well with the BaconFest menu despite very little promotion. In 2015, the company ran television and radio commercials; fine-tuned the lineup of product offerings and wound up having the strongest January in the company’s history, Utrera said.

“There’s such a cult following with bacon,” Utrera explained. “We thought we could really have fun with this promotion. Our risk was very limited because we have 15 different meats, so we added a couple and substituted a couple for the promotion.

“So, the risk to the guest is very limited — they pay the same price, and yet they can just skip it. But if they like it, they can have as much as they like, so our risk was only limited to whatever product we bought.”

Menus at Brazilian steakhouses don’t vary much, Utrera, who is a native of Brazil, said. Offerings are fairly standardized. Churrascaria is steeped in centuries-old traditions that began with gauchos in Southern Brazil roasting meat over an open flame following a hard day’s work managing cattle. Utrera said Rodizio is very authentic, and it is the only US-based churrascaria that is Brazilian owned. But at the same time, the folks at Rodizio like to have fun, and BaconFest reflects that creative mindset.

“It makes Rodizio more of a taste adventure,” he explained. “Not only do you have those 15 different meats, but from time to time, we’ll offer something that’s very different that you can’t find anywhere else — and you don’t have to pay extra for it.”

Balancing flavors

Rodizion Grill's Extra BLT Salada
Rodizio Grill's BaconFest will extend into February.

Utrera said implementing the BaconFest menu doesn’t require the restaurant kitchens to change anything — beef with bacon, or ham wrapped in bacon are dishes Rodizio has done for years.

The biggest challenge Rodizio faces is battling bacon fatigue. “Be creative, but the biggest challenge is balancing the flavors,” Utrera said, “especially with us offering so many items at the same time. It’s not like you’re going to order one of them. If everything tastes just like bacon, then, in the long run, you’re going to tire the customers. Even during the experience, the excitement goes away.

“At a Brazilian steakhouse, every bite is a different taste experience.”

The taste experience for 2016 includes Grilled Peppered Pork Belly, Bacon-Wrapped Applewood Ham, Bacon Lover’s Cheese Bread, Fire Grilled Onion & Bacon Medley, Bacon’d Potatoes and much more. Rodizio uses hardwood-smoked, honey-cured sliced bacon.

‘Going fishing while the fish are biting’

BaconFest is up for another run, but this go-round will extend into February. Utrera said it takes two to three weeks for the message about BaconFest to get out, and the promotion is ending just as awareness in picking up. In the past, customers complained about missing BaconFest. But this year, Valentine’s Day will have a sub-theme and take a backseat to bacon at Rodizio Grill.

Given the increased number of stores and the two-month promotion, Rodizio expects diners to consume 21,000 lbs. of bacon (about 14 cases); 13,000 lbs. of ham; 4,000 lbs. of pork belly and 30,000 lbs. of pork loin.

“We revised our creative,” he said. “We re-launched this year again. I believe this promotion is going to stay with for many, many years because we got so much positive feedback.”