By GENE PATTERSON
6 News Anchor/Reporter
MADISONVILLE (WATE) - It's not every day that a self-proclaimed "hillbilly" from Monroe County makes the cover of the University of Tennessee's alumni magazine, The Torchbearer.
But then again, it's not every day you run across a businessman quite like Allan Benton.
He owns Benton's Bacon and makes a bacon so unique, Esquire magazine called it the best bacon in the world.
So what makes it so good?
"We take these hams out and keep them for a couple of months to cure down to the bone," Benton said.
This businessman knows his bacon and hams, and for nearly four decades he's made them the same way in a building along Highway 411 in Madisonville.
"When I got into this business, I was trying to make hams 12 to 18 months old and sell them for the same price of 80-day hams. I was trying to talk to folks about quality and nobody was listening," he recalled.
But they're listening now, thanks to the many top-notch chefs at some of America's finest restaurants who use his hams and bacon.
From New York to California, those chefs have elevated Benton's bacon to near cult status and turned a borderline business into a thriving enterprise.
"I was starving to death 'til they came on board. I feel a real allegiance with the chefs who like my product. And they like that it's something exclusive and not something you can buy at the corner grocery store," he said.
Despite the success and the many opportunities to grow even bigger, Allan has, so far, resisted the temptation to become a store brand.
He and his dozen or so employees are focused on quality and reliability - something he believes could be the cure, no pun intended, for America's current problems.
"I truly believe that if we focused on quality in this country, whether it's cars or TVs or cell phones or ham and bacon, I believe if we focused on quality that the economy, the woes of the economy would cure themselves. We'd be selling stuff all over the world," Benton said.
For now, he's content to sell to his chefs and those who visit his store in Monroe County.
And by the way, he says not everyone likes his bacon. From its salt and brown sugar rub, to months of curing and finally days of smoking, the resulting taste is, as Allan describes it, "intense."
"I had a lady from Philadelphia three weeks ago call me up and tell me it was the absolute worst bacon she'd ever had in her life. It was too intense. So it's not for everyone, but thank goodness some people like it," he said.
And thank goodness for people like Allan Benton,who could've chosen an easier path but didn't - an example of the Spirit of East Tennessee.
If you know someone who you believe is an example of the Spirit of East Tennessee, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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