In 2014, Im Cheah and her husband Joon Yee decided to spice up their son’s first birthday party with some popcorn. “We came across this recipe – it had alcohol in it, so we thought we might as well try it. And we had some bacon on hand, so we said, ‘Eh, let’s just put it inside lah’,” says Cheah.
The result was revelatory and although Cheah knew she was on to something, she had a full-time job in advertising and was too afraid to take a leap of faith, so making bacon popcorn was relegated to a hobby. But then in 2016, her brother’s death led her to do something more tangible about her passion.
“He had a terminal illness and during his last few weeks, all he talked about was ‘I should have done this,’ or ‘I should have done that.’
“So when I was at his bedside, I asked him, ‘I should just do this business, right?’ And he said, ‘Yes, but do it big lah!’” she says, laughing at the recollection.
After her brother’s passing, Cheah quit her job and started her business Bacon It (www.bacon-it.com) full-time. The brand specialises in all things bacon – from their signature bacon popcorn to other bacon-laced treats, like bourbon and bacon cakes and cupcakes, bacon chocolate chip cookies and even bacon ice-cream!
To make the bacon for all her products, Cheah buys the meat in bulk from the local market and cures it for a week before smoking it herself, with a small smoker she purchased.
“It’s not very big, so we can only smoke about 10kg of bacon at a time. We have had customers asking if they can buy the bacon off us, but I’ve had to say, ‘Sorry, I don’t have enough’. It’s just enough for me to make these things,” she says.
Cheah decided to smoke her own bacon because she says the taste is superior to commercial bacon.
“When we marinate the bacon, we can put other herbs inside, which makes it taste so much better,” she says.
At the moment, Cheah makes four flavours of popcorn: bacon and bourbon caramel popcorn, bacon and rum butterscotch popcorn, bacon and gula Melaka popcorn and bacon and sambal ikan bilis popcorn, all priced at RM17.
Perhaps the most successful of the quartet is the bacon and rum butterscotch popcorn, which features delicious hints of rich rum interspersed with smoky bacon pieces and sweet popcorn.
The bacon and sambal ikan bilis is also a crowd-pleaser, with a fiery underbelly and bits of bacon and ikan bilis adding chewy texture to every mouthful.
Cheah’s other bacon offerings are equally interesting – her bacon chocolate chip cookies with flaked sea salt (RM35), for instance, offer pockets of salty bacon notes juxtaposed against sweet chocolate chips, while the bacon and cheddar scones (RM75 for a dozen) are insanely good – with bacon taking centrestage in every possible way.
Perhaps the only question mark in this equation is the bacon ice-cream, which has a vanilla and rum base interlaced with bacon slices. It’s a very, very savoury ice-cream that doesn’t at all taste like classic connotations of this normally sweet dessert, which is why those partial to traditional versions of ice-cream might find it a little difficult to appreciate.
Although the first few years were tough, Cheah says business has picked up considerably, so much so that during festive periods, she often has to turn down orders as she still works alone. Which is why moving forward, she is considering getting more help as well as starting up an e-commerce site to streamline orders.
“I think I want to turn it into an e-commerce business, because it will be easier for me as then I won’t have to take customers’ orders over the phone, as I have been doing the past few years,” she says.
Although making all these bacon treats takes a lot of time and effort, Cheah says she derives so much pleasure from it. “It’s a lot of work, but it makes me happy, because I enjoy making things for people,” she says.