Out and About

Not your average PB&J: Get to know Durham's Big Spoon Roasters

Long before he launched Big Spoon, Mark Overbay was working with the Peace Corps in Zimbabwe. That's where he discovered homemade nut butter.

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Kathy Hanrahan, Out
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DURHAM, N.C. — Peanut butter is a comfort food for many people.
"If you'd asked me my favorite food, my entire life, peanut butter was probably one of the top two things," Big Spoon Roasters Founder Mark Overbay said on this week's Out and About Podcast.
Long before he launched Big Spoon, Overbay was working with the Peace Corps in Zimbabwe. Knowing he'd be far from home with no way to buy peanut butter, he packed a few jars in his bags.

After a month, Overbay was out of peanut butter, but one of the crops in the place he lived was a type of peanut.

"They call them groundnuts, and a lot of people would roast them over open fires and crush them by hand with stones, like with a mortar and pestle. And then they would stir that into like a stew to add protein and healthy fats," Overbay said. "It was delicious."

Craving the sweet and salty flavor of traditional peanut butter, Overbay decided to use the same technique of roasting and crushing the peanuts, but added honey, sea salt and coconut oil.

"It was honestly one of the best things I've ever tasted," Overbay said. "It just, like, changed my life because I realized that with care and craft and great ingredients, you can make something truly delicious with really simple methods."

Overbay's career eventually led him to Counter Culture Coffee in North Carolina in 2005.

"Through that job, I became really connected and passionate about the local food community here – and that's everybody from local farmers to restaurant owners, catering companies – just the work being done here to celebrate local food in North Carolina is amazing," Overbay said.

Overbay never forgot about the nut butter he made in Zimbabwe. A chance craving for it in 2010 prompted him to explore why local handcrafted, small-batch, fresh-roasted peanut butter wasn't on the shelves at his favorite stores.

"Farmer's markets are exploding with all these amazing locally made foods, but nobody was doing anything with nut butters, at least that I knew of," he said.

Overbay went to Whole Foods in Durham and bought raw North Carolina peanuts and pecans. He went home, roasted them in the oven and used a food processor to grind them up. Soon he had his own custom, locally made nut butter.

"I couldn't wait to share them with family and friends. And when I did, they were really encouraging," Overbay said.

In 2011, Big Spoon Roasters started selling at the Carrboro Farmers Market. The next year, the company added the Durham Farmers Market and Western Wake Farmers Market.

"I didn't even leave my job at Counter Culture for the first year, because we just used the funds that we made through the farmer's market to grow the business at first," Overbay said.

Now, the business has its own production facility in Durham and makes 13 to 15 nut butters at a time and six different nut-based bars. Big Spoon Roasters is in 800 stores around the country and a few in Europe.


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