Mark, I love that the name of your company came from a nick name you have for your dad. nothing better than a big dip into a jar of great nut butter! Can you tell us more about the evolution of your brand name?
My dad comes from a long line of Appalachian gardeners, canners, and food preservationists; and I grew up practically swimming in Mason jars filled with summer green beans, tomatoes, sweet corn, apple butter, and dozens of variations on berry jam. Eating straight out of a jar comes naturally to us!
Peanut butter seems to be one of Americas favorite flavors, why do you think that is?
Peanut butter, when done well, is pure, delicious comfort. It offers a near perfect flavor balance of roastiness, saltiness, and sweetness, and its spoonable texture not only offers a pleasant mouthfeel, it also makes it a versatile complement to a wide variety of other foods, such as toast, jam, chocolate, and ice cream. Its heart-healthy, naturally occurring fats and high protein content also make peanut butter extremely satisfying and nutritious, so really, what’s not to love?
Peanuts are also indigenous to the Americas, and the Incas were known to have ground them into a paste for eating and drinking. So, it’s reasonable to assume that peanuts and cacao (chocolate) have been a go-to combo for food lovers for millennia. The first commercial crop of peanuts in the U.S. was probably in North Carolina, Big Spoon's home state, in 1818, and according to patent records, the first machine for peanut butter was pioneered in 1903 in St. Louis. When I was in middle school in the 1980s, my great-grandfather, who grew up in the mountains of East Tennessee, told me the story of when he first encountered peanut butter in the 1930s. A friend bought some and gave him a “knifeful” on a few crackers, and it changed his life forever, as he never went a week without eating peanut butter after that day! Peanut butter obviously has strong traditions in my family!
I rediscovered peanut butter as Peace Corps Volunteer in Zimbabwe in 1999 and 2000. The community where I lived grew peanuts as a staple food crop, and after harvest, they would roast the nuts over an open fire. Then, they would use smooth stones to crush the peanuts, or groundnuts as they are called there, into a coarse peanut butter to which they would add a hint of salt and sugar. That peanut butter was simply one of the best things I have ever eaten and certainly an inspiration for Big Spoon Roasters.
What has it been like for you starting and maintaining a food product business? What are the best and most challenging aspects?
I learn a lot every day when it comes to running a business, and since this is the first business I’ve ever started from scratch, I’m sure that will be true for a long time. After two and half years in business, although my amazing wife, Megan, helps a great deal with various aspects of the business and I have part-time production help, I’m still the only full-time employee. To me, product quality and integrity are always most important, and while we’ve had opportunities to grow more quickly, our manual production methods lend themselves to slower, incremental growth, and I think that can be a good thing.
The best aspects are making people happy with food that we make, working with and supporting like-minded retailers and farmers, and providing real, sustainable alternative to the large-scale industrial food model. The most challenging aspects of the business are all tied to this being our first business and all the uncertainty that comes with that. I’m optimistic by nature, though, so even those challenges are seen as opportunities. I am also continually inspired by other food entrepreneurs around the country, and since many of them have grown slowly and onkjnk their own terms, I know it can be done.
How did your source your peanuts and pecans, where do they come from?
Our peanuts come from an independent sheller that works directly with growers in Eastern NC, and I’m currently negotiating to buy an NC-based organic peanut farmer’s entire, first harvest directly. Our first farm-direct lot! My goal is to eventually be able to always buy directly from peanut farmers and, as we grow, become a stronger market force encouraging organic peanut agriculture, of which there is little in the American Southeast. Our pecans come from two individual farmers - one in Central North Carlina and the other in the Quernado Valley in South Texas - depending on the season.
Would you mind sharing your favorite nut butter recipe?
My favorite nut butter “recipe” is for perhaps my favorite thing to eat on earth. I do this every day!
1. Slice one or two of your favorite apples - crisp, sweet heirloom varieties with just a little tartness, if possible.
2. Spread each slice with fresh-roasted nut butter and enjoy, one slice at time, and preferably outside.
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