Maryland diner turns leftover bacon grease into soap to save money

Sam Delauter was worried about the mounting cost of ingredients at his diner in Ocean City, Md.

“I was getting very nervous when I saw bacon up 50 percent, eggs up 50 percent,” said Delauter, 29, who opened Sunrise Diner in 2021 as a seasonal restaurant, operating from March to October.

Subscribe to The Post Most newsletter for the most important and interesting stories from The Washington Post.

Food prices surged in 2022 because of labor shortages, war, heat waves and higher gas prices. Delauter feared he’d have to shut down his small business.

Then, as he was doing his daily disposal of bacon grease, he thought about his great-grandmother. Each year, Sunrise Diner produces about 1,000 pounds of bacon grease - all of which ended up in the trash.

“I could make soap out of this,” Delauter thought.

The old-fashioned concept seemed obvious to him, as he had watched his great-grandmother turn bacon grease into soap for years. She started doing it during the Great Depression when her family couldn’t afford to buy soap.

“This was something that a lot of people did back then, but she kept doing it up until she died in 2006,” said Delauter, whose great-grandmother’s name was Hazel Delauter.

All soaps are made from a chemical reaction between fat and an alkali substance. Most modern commercial soaps are synthetically processed, though some are still made with animal fat - which was the traditional method.

Delauter consulted with his grandfather, Russ Delauter, to get the family’s bacon soap recipe. Russ Delauter was delighted by his grandson’s interest in the soap he was raised on.

“I was born in 1930, and that’s the only soap we had,” said Russ Delauter, 94. “She washed me and washed the dishes and everything else with that soap.”

Hazel Delauter’s soap-making process was relatively simple: She would first strain the grease to remove any bacon bits, then purify it by mixing it in a pot with boiling water, creating a clear, odorless lard. She then combined the lard with lye - a chemical compound found in soaps. When she first started making bacon grease soap, Hazel Delauter used fireplace ashes to make lye. She then left the mixture to harden overnight, before cutting it into bars.

Direct exposure to lye can cause damage to the skin, but once soaps containing lye have been properly cured, they are safe to use.

Sam Delauter decided to try his hand at making his great-grandmother’s recipe. The only tweak he made was adding essential oils for scent.

“I experimented for two months,” he said, adding that when he finally landed on the right formula, he decided to start selling the soap at his diner and online for about $6 a bar. He called it “Bumble Soap,” as the diner was originally bee-themed. Since he started selling bacon grease soap in 2022, he has made about $10,000 a year on the product.

“It’s something that was just a pure waste product I had, and upcycled it into a bar of soap,” said Delauter, explaining that his five-ingredient soaps are made with only natural ingredients.

Bacon grease soap offsets 80 percent of Delauter’s annual bacon cost, he said.

“It saves about 1,000 pounds of food waste each year,” he said. “I think people are also interested in the fact that it’s homemade; you don’t find a lot of stuff like that anymore.”

“This is something that, start to finish, I made with my bare hands with something that is natural and would have gone into the trash anyway,” Delauter said.

When Sara Brown read about Delauter’s soap online, she decided to order some. Although she lives in Southern California and has never been to Sunrise Diner, Brown was drawn to the bacon grease soap concept.

“I was really attracted to this idea that they were reusing the lard,” said Brown, 39, who has purchased several bars of the soap. “We live in this day of consumer culture and buying more and there’s just a lot of waste, so I love that it’s reused.”

Plus, she added, “I love that they’re using the owner’s great-grandmother’s recipe.”

If Hazel Delauter were around to see her great-grandson making and selling bacon grease soap, “she’d be tickled pink,” Russ Delauter said. “I’m proud of him, and really proud of my mother and my family.”

Sam Delauter currently sells five scents of soap, including lavender, patchouli and cedar mixed with cardamom. He experiments with different scents for Halloween and Christmas.

“I have fun with it,” he said, explaining that he never expected his bacon grease soap to be a success.

While his creative side business has helped him keep his diner afloat, it has also given him a deeper connection to his great-grandmother.

“Her memory is living on,” said Sam Delauter. “It’s a beautiful thing.”

Related Content

One graduate’s quiet protest: Bringing a banned book to commencement

The real dolphin tale: They’re smart, sometimes vicious and highly sexed

Trump makes sweeping promises to donors on audacious fundraising tour