PigOut cleans up messy business
A proprietary roaster developed by Alan Dickson, co-founder of PigOut Catering, is the star of the show at weddings and corporate events.
When you run a five-star catering business, incorporating a pig roast into the mix is a comparatively messy business. There’s the smoke, the grease and that whole head supervising the operation, which can be a turnoff for squeamish customers.
Anne and Alan Dickson—recent immigrants to Canada from Scotland—decided to search for a visually pleasing way to roast pigs at weddings and corporate events for their large-scale catering business, City Eats. With a Scotland-based upscale hospitality company serving wealthier customers, Alan wanted to diversify the family business with pig roasting to provide a less stuffy, more relaxed and less labor-intensive dining option for guests.
After doing his first roasts with clunky equipment that was neither fast nor fetching, Alan fell in love with the theater of slow-cooking pigs for his clients, crafting his shtick to become part of the excitement of the events he catered. Unsatisfied with the roasters available on the market, he purchased every variant he could get his hands on, but soon formed plans to design his own proprietary roasting machine.
“Everybody cooks pigs on a barbecue or over an open fire, which is no good for catering because you have no idea when it’s going to be cooked,” Anne said.
Pigs were a new profit center for the Dickson family business, but the work of running a 150-employee operation took its toll, and they began looking for the exit—and a dramatic life shakeup that would include moving from Europe to North America.
A new lifestyle
Thinking globally about their business and its offerings, they realized pig roasting was far easier and more enjoyable than the upscale event catering they’d done for years.
“We were working seven days a week owning hotels and restaurants, we had three children.” They decided “let’s just sell everything, get out and have better quality of life,” Anne said of the decision to sell their company, leave Scotland and move to Canada.
Once they crossed the pond and set up roots in Ontario, Alan began designing his proprietary PigOut Roaster—a massive rotisserie pit on wheels. It was faster, more high tech, and much more attractive to match the upscale presentation they intended to focus on with their new company, PigOut Catering.
To avoid the pitfalls of running a big company again, they launched a catering business to showcase Alan’s roaster while laying the groundwork to build a franchise to combine their proprietary technology with the upscale customer service and marketing savvy honed through the years running their business in the United Kingdom.
“We very much didn’t want to have a big catering company again with 150 staff and vehicles,” Anne said. “We wanted to keep it small, so we made the decision to franchise the concept.”
The birth of PigOut
More than just a pig roaster sweating away out of sight at the events they cater, PigOut is bringing upscale service and presentation to one of the most casual forms of eating celebrated by cultures across the globe.
The menu goes beyond pork, often including barbecue chicken, grilled vegetables and artful salads, while the presentation is decidedly upscale.
Details include professional chef jackets for the cooks, flowers, cloths and candles on the tables, and trucks with high-quality PigOut signage.
Operators are trained in customer service and directed to engage with curious guests who want to see the meat cooking through the windows of Alan’s roaster, now the star of the PigOut presentation.
“What they have developed is the experience,” said Nelson Diaz, one of its first franchisees in the Niagara Falls area. “The presentation of the food is very professional, everything is fresh and you can see everything is natural, so that creates the impact.”
Diaz discovered PigOut shortly after his own international move, after he and his wife moved to Ontario from South America. He signed on originally expecting PigOut to be a side gig while he kept his full-time job.
“We thought it would be one or two functions every month or so, but to our surprise we had referrals and more referrals,” he said. “By the second year we had to go full time because we had a function every week.”
As the Dicksons ramp up a new business after their great downsizing three years ago, running a growing franchise remains much easier than managing a full-time staff of 150+ employees.
Now up to seven operating units in Canada, the couple is plotting its next international move with plans to open franchises in the United States, particularly southern states with longer summers.
Barbecue-friendly states like the Carolinas, Florida and Texas are particularly prime areas for the brand, especially areas with higher Latino populations where pig roasting is a popular cultural tradition.
Cooking experience isn’t a prerequisite, but the Dicksons see hospitality expats as their prime audience for buying franchises, as they offer owners the ability to do what they love, interact with customers and have greater control over their schedules.
“Most people who work in hospitality work longer hours than people who don’t,” Anne said. “In the restaurant market you’re talking about a minimum entry point of like $500,000.”
For PigOut, that entry point is just over $100,000, which can be affordable for a wider audience than many other food-based opportunities. “We know that people from catering backgrounds aren’t afraid of hard work,” she said, adding that one chef-turned-franchisee liked the idea of having direct contact with the people he cooked for. “He’d been in hospitality all his life and had never been thanked by the client.”