The Evangelist and the Seer: Twin Forks Farm and Nut Butter Nation By Eric D. S. Dorman
The food industry is particularly exclusive, and everybody knows it. One of the clichés of entrepreneurship is that idea people should probably stay away from restaurants. The market is just too tight and the stakes are too high. Youâ€TMre not likely to make a killing, even if you succeed. Now, Iâ€TMm no economist, but Iâ€TMd imagine that the same holds true for food in general. That is, if restaurants arenâ€TMt typically the first course of action for entrepreneurs, then trying to work your way into a niche food market is even less advised. That is, unless you love it. And more and more often, people are getting in touch with their passions and discovering that healthy, wholesome, tasty food is right up their alley. They arenâ€TMt doing it to make a killing. Theyâ€TMre doing it to make themselves and their customers happy. Thankfully, that approach seems to be working out for a couple of Middle Tennessee businesses, Twin Forks Farm and Nut Butter. Twenty years ago, David Tannen dramatically changed the way he ate. He said goodbye to drive-throughs and processed foods and became a vegetarian, and he resolved to start eating food in its whole form. In other words, he put down the Big Mac and picked up the carrot. For a lot of folks, that would be enough. They start eating healthier and they lose some weight, and thatâ€TMs plenty. For David, though, it stirred his affection for healthy living. He became an evangelist for eating well, a proselytizer for produce. He could not keep the good news to himself any longer. He wanted to share it with the rest of us. In fact, he gave up his city life, relocated to rural Tennessee and started an organic farm. Well, it was really just a garden at first. As heâ€TMll tell you, the trappings of regular life still latched on fairly strong: mortgages, car payments, city jobs and so on. Nonetheless, Twin Forks Farm was born. One day, everything changed. Heâ€TMd been having some moderate success (garden now larger) selling his produce at farmersâ€TM markets. But then he picked up Kiko Denzerâ€TMs How to Build an Earth Oven. He decided to start baking bread, and when he discovered that some of his friends and neighbors liked the bread, he thought, “Well, Iâ€TMll build a bigger oven.” “We were very successful doing that,” David said. “But it got to be about 80 hours a week, and it was really killing me.” However, David had been making granola with the ovens, as well, and decided that making granola would mean an easier lifestyle. “More like 40 hours a week instead of 80,” David said. “It was a matter of having a life other than just baking—so we made the switch to just granola.” Eventually, he decided to add roasted nuts (the Vinegar and Salt Sunflower Seeds are a particular hit). After some rebranding and reorganization, Twin Forks products are in 27 locations in and around Nashville. David and his wife are now retired from their corporate jobs and they devote their time and energy—and their passion—to Twin Forks and to spreading the good news that healthy, whole food can also taste good. It may have taken David a while to find his calling in the food world, but heâ€TMs settling in nicely and his work is continuing to grow. For Memphis native Grant Ellis of Nut Butter, though, the work was less of a process and more of an epiphany. Nut Butter is the latest in Grantâ€TMs line of businesses. Heâ€TMs had six or seven in the past several years. He actually keeps a running spreadsheet of ideas that pop into his head, just in case he ever wants to explore them in the future. Grant is a true entrepreneur, and if his various ventures arenâ€TMt proof enough, he has “The Entry Level Entrepreneur” podcast to prove it. But Nut Butter—which is exactly what it sounds like: a peanut butter company—was a little bit of a different kind of idea for Grant. “It sounds kind of crazy,” he said. “But I had a dream.” And I know what youâ€TMre thinking: “Itâ€TMs not crazy to follow your dreams, Grant. Itâ€TMs what being an American is all about. Follow your heart. Reach for the stars.” Clichés and platitudes all around. But no. Grant—like a modern seer—had an actual “he-was-asleep-and-had-a-dream” sort of dream. Nut Butter wasnâ€TMt on his spreadsheet. His subconscious—or some other force—gave him the idea one night during REM sleep. “I was in a room and I was surrounded by almond butter—flavored, healthy almond butter,” Grant said. “And I thought in my sleep that it was kind of an interesting combination. Typically you get healthy or you get flavorful, and thereâ€TMs not a lot of in-between.” He woke up and told his wife that he was thinking about starting an almond butter company. “She knows me by now, and so she was like, â€~Whatever. Okay.â€TM” Within a week, they were testing recipes in their kitchen and trying different flavors. As Grant was doing his research, however, it became apparent that 70 or 80 percent of the consumer market was still focused on peanut butter. Almond butter is much more expensive, and according to Grant, it just doesnâ€TMt taste as good flavored. Grantâ€TMs a good businessman, so he figured heâ€TMd drop the almonds and grab the peanuts, giving the people what they want. Today, Nut Butter has a traditional recipe and three others: brown sugar cinnamon, rainforest dark chocolate and honey vanilla. Theyâ€TMre in 30 states and 400 stores. Theyâ€TMre expecting that to be 1,000 stores by the end of the year. In July, they shipped out 14,000 jars. Oh, and he had the dream in February 2015. Here you were thinking this was 15 years ago. Please. In any case, it looks like his dreams are coming true.