As a native Iowan, Nick Iaria knew the importance of pork to the state.
"Pork is an industry that helps drive Iowa. Pork is such a big commodity here in Iowa, that it really feeds a multitude of different families in many ways. Whether it’s the farmers selling it to us, the Iowans eating it, we export it. I think it’s a big deal," he said.
And within the last few weeks, after the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA) named his restaurant as the winner of its "Best Breaded Tenderloin" contest, he’s learning what the contest and what pork means for his restaurant, Nick’s, too.
Since winning the IPPA’s tenderloin contest, he said sales have "exploded." The restaurant usually sells about 1,000 tenderloins per week. The last couple weeks, he said, sales have tripled. The day they were announced as the winner, 700 tenderloins were served. The next day, 800 tenderloins were sold.
"We’ve almost hit our weekly sales on a daily account right now; it’s been great," he said.
Tenderloins make up 80 percent of Nick’s food sales, not just during October Pork Month, but throughout the year.
Iaria’s restaurant, located at 1106 Army Post Road in Des Moines, was the first Des Moines-based restaurant to win the award for best breaded tenderloin since the IPPA started the contest 14 years ago. A total of 385 restaurants, cafes and other establishments received nominations in this year’s contest. The five restaurants with the most nominations from each of the eight IPPA districts were judged this summer.
Iaria, a former stock broker, said he got the call to say he made the top 5 in the contest, but he wasn’t even at the restaurant when the secret judging occurred, he later found out.
"What makes me feel really good is that I wasn’t even here on that day when they judged it. So I know that my cooks were doing what they were taught to do," he said.
Besides a secret batter, Iaria said the key to a perfect tenderloin is using fresh, never frozen, pork that is cut and tenderized each morning. When a customer orders a tenderloin at Nick’s, it’s seasoned, floured, battered and cooked fresh to order.
The restaurant serves a queen (6 to 7 ounces) and king size (12 to 13 ounces) version of its breaded tenderloin. It also serves an Italian tenderloin with homemade sauce and cheese, a bacon and Swiss tenderloin, a chili cheese tenderloin made with pork chili and a grilled tenderloin. Tenderloin strips are even available on Nick’s kids’ menu.
Along with more tenderloin sales, the award has opened up other opportunities, Iaria said. He’s going to be working with the Des Moines-based Iowa Wild hockey team, catering events for the team. He also hopes to be a part of the Iowa State Fair in the future.
In addition to the title and the accompanying plaque to hang in the restaurant, Iaria was also awarded $500.
Due to the sales associated with the contest, Iaria said nearly everyone at the restaurant has been working double shifts; he’s hoping to hire six people soon.
The 1901 Chop Haus in Traer had the runner-up tenderloin in this year’s contest and will receive $250 and a plaque.