A Fork in the Road Podcast: Georgia Grinders
Peanuts are close to sacred in Georgia. And making peanut butter is a serious business. But peanuts don't hold a monopoly on the nut butter game. There's pecan, almond, cashew, and hazelnut butter, too. In this episode, we'll learn how Georgia Grinders in Chamblee, Georgia has the nut butter process down to a science.
David Zelski: Here in James Earl Carter's state of birth. We tend to be a little particular about our nuts when it comes to nut butter. There's only one we want to pair with jelly and a nice cold Coke in our lunchboxes. Say it with me, y'all.
Singing: Peanut. Peanut butter......and jelly.
David Zelski: That's right. But in Chamblee, Georgia, Georgia Grinders is pushing the nut butter game forward with healthy and delicious results.
Theme Song: I came from the mud, there's dirt on my hands. Strong like a tree, there's roots where I stand.
David Zelski: I'm David Zelski, and this is the Fork in the Road podcast presented by Georgia Grown and the fine folks at Georgia Public Broadcasting. Each episode, we feature stories from Georgia's farmers, fishermen, merchants, artisans, chefs and others who help provide Georgia grown products to folks in the Peach State and beyond. Today we are in Metro Atlanta, just inside the perimeter in Chamblee. This is where we'll meet up with Jamie and Harry Foster, the owners of Georgia Grinders, a company that prides itself on quality nut butter made with the finest ingredients grown here in the state. And when it comes to the sticky stuff, they don't just stop at the usual staples.
Jamie Foster: So at Georgia Grinders, we make all kinds of small batch hand-crafted nut butters, everything from almond butter, peanut butter, cashew butter, pecan, hazelnut. Those seem to be kind of the popular nuts right now. And, you know, each nut has a different property based on size, shape, moisture, content, you know, all of which is affected by the roasting process and ultimately the grinding process. But that's what we do extremely well here is we roast everything in-house and have identified the perfect roasting time so that the oils are released in our ground perfectly when grinding so that we can put into jars and shelves near you.
David Zelski: That in-house roasting process means a perfectly calibrated roast for every nut, resulting in a tastier product and tastier products is what Georgia Grinders is all about. Now, I'm not blaspheming peanuts. I know that we all love peanuts, but variety...well, it's the spice of life.
Harry Foster: So in addition to doing peanut butter, which obviously Georgia being known for peanuts, Georgia's also the nation's largest producer of pecans. So we pride ourselves in sourcing, you know, peanuts from farmers in Georgia only. And pecans. Our pecans come from a fifth generation grower, a family has been doing this for well over 100, almost 150 years now.
David Zelski: The folks at Georgia Grinders are locally minded and deeply passionate about their industry and I'll resist the obvious pun. But let's just say these folks are crazy about what they do.
Harry Foster: We eat, drink, and sleep on nuts. I mean, we think about it all the time. It's always there. What she's good in I don't do so well in where she has problems. I can easily pick up the slack there too.
David Zelski: Georgia Grinders got its start in 2012, and while nut butters made from all different kinds of nuts is pretty normal to see these days. It wasn't always the case.
Jamie Foster: Essentially, it's a tribute to my grandfather and his innovation towards health and wellness. He started making almond butter back in the 1970s before people really knew what almond butter or nut butters were, except for the obvious peanut butter. And this is what I grew up eating. And he took a lot of pride in shipping it all over the country to his kids and grandkids. He was actually predisposed to cardiovascular disease and ended up living until he was 97 years old and attributes his longevity to clean, simple eating and health and wellness.
David Zelski: The company moved into a new state of the art facility in 2020 and the upgrade really took them to the next level.
Harry Foster: So we moved to this facility. It's been a huge change for us. We started in 1000 square feet. We're now up to about 15,000 square feet. It has lots of room to grow and change.
David Zelski: Making peanut butter isn't brain surgery, it's peanut butter. It should be simple, right? Wrong. The process for making these forward thinking nut butters is focused and precise, and the folks at Georgia Grinders, they have it down to a science.
Jamie Foster: So all of our nuts come in to our facility and we focus on producing one nut butter at any given time. So as you can see right now behind us, Nate is roasting peanuts today. Again, each nut has a specific roasting time. They go through a cooling process and then are immediately browned. Then we add sea salt to each and every batch with the exception of our salt free almond butter. And if there's any inclusions such as our honey or maple or our limited edition chocolate-bourbon-pecan butter.
Producer Jeremy: Wait, David. What? What did she say?
Jamie Foster: Chocolate. Bourbon. Pecan butter.
Producer Jeremy: All right, that's it. I'm headed to Chamblee.
David Zelski: Those are limited edition and they sell out quick. So Producer Jeremy might not be able to snag a jar, but Jamie and Harry are always trying out new blends. From the sweet to the savory. Harry says the size of their company gives them that competitive edge.
Harry Foster: We can do basically anything we want to being small means you're nimble so that we can move and go in between different nuts. We can try and experiment with different things small batches, seasonal varieties that a large manufacturer couldn't necessarily do.
Jamie Foster: The inclusions get added in, mixed, shuffled over to the piston filler where each jar is hand filled and then sealed by one of our employees and put in a box and out it goes.
David Zelski: Handcrafted with love and shipped across the country. Just like Jamie's grandfather used to do. For Georgia Grinders, it's a time tested tradition. What else gives their company staying power? Just keeping it simple.
Jamie Foster: So, Georgia Grinders' nut butters are all, you know, small batch, handcrafted. And we take a lot of pride in the ingredients that we source. Essentially, our products contain two ingredients the nuts and a touch of sea salt. So you'll never find additional sugars, oils, emulsifiers additives, or any types of preservatives. We want our products to be very clean and simple, as they should be. And that way, the consumer can ultimately decide what they want to pair it with and whether that's something sweet or savory.
Harry Foster: And unlike the mass brands, you know, we know the story. We know our farmers. We've been on the field. We go and talk with them and they tell us what's coming down the line. They give us ideas, too. Have you thought about this or that. So, you know, we know this. We know the story literally from ground to grind all the way through.
David Zelski: From ground to grind. I like that.
Harry Foster: And then the other thing that makes us unique is we do it ourselves. A lot of places use co-packers and they don't get to oversee or be, you know, be as nimble as we can be. And like I said, we can come in and make small runs, big runs, be unique, seasonal things. And so having that control has been a big differentiation for us.
David Zelski: The inventive nature of Georgia Grinders isn't just limited to their flavors. Here's Jamie talking about another one of the company's trailblazing achievements.
Jamie Foster: At the end of 2020, we were extremely honored and proud to be able to launch the first ever Georgia grown organic peanut butter and are extremely excited about our partnership with Georgia Organics and some farmers down in South Georgia to bring the first organic peanut butter grown, processed, and manufactured into nut butter in the state of Georgia.
David Zelski: Simple yet innovative. That's Georgia Grinders in a nutshell. The philosophy has carried them well so far, and it's even earned them some impressive accolades.
Jamie Foster: Georgia Grinders has been very blessed to receive a lot of awards throughout the years. Initially, we were featured in Oprah magazine as her favorite nut butter in 2013 on the O-List. And then Rachel Ray's magazine has featured us. We've received some clean eating awards and our pecan butter won Flavor of Georgia back in 2017 and just continued to be very well supported by the University of Georgia and the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.
David Zelski: Those are some well-earned stripes for a company whose whole team consists of folks who are no stranger to the grind.
Jamie Foster: We have an amazing team here at Georgia Grinders, and none of this would be possible without their dedication and commitment to creating a quality product each and every day. They're like family to us, and everyone gets along great and works together. And it's, you know, we call everyone a part of our Georgia Grinders family.
David Zelski: And that family has a loving and hospitable home in the great state of Georgia.
Harry Foster: You know, the state of Georgia and the Department of Agriculture, the Georgia Grown program, it is a huge success. And, you know, at first off, even though we're our competitors with other people, everyone gets along great. Everyone is supportive. We realize there's room for everyone to be involved and to succeed. The state agricultural department, they've always been great along with the University of Georgia. If you have problems, we've called up and talked to food scientists about we're having an issue with something in this particular variety of nut what can we do and they'll work with you. And the state has been a great supporter. So, you know, Georgia grown in addition to supporting us. It's about the state helping us out, too, and being there for the citizens and the small businesses that are there. And the farmers.
Jamie Foster: Yeah. And in addition to that, I think just Georgia Grown provides so many resources to different brands and companies and their members, and it gives us an opportunity to network and collaborate with others, you know, because the reality is we're all in this together. We all experience similar issues. While we might not have the same products, it's still the same challenges, and we're able to help each other overcome them so that we can all succeed.
David Zelski: And to succeed in this industry, you need to be a tough shell to crack.
Harry Foster: One of the things we talk about is if it was easy, everybody would do it. And a lot of it's perseverance. Just keep going. Keep moving through. Last year's problems are different from this year's problems, and this year's problems are not going to be next year's problems. So it's always an evolution in what you're doing and how your business grows and what you face. And, you know, life is literally, you know, 10% of what happens and 90% of how you deal with it.
Jamie Foster: I mean, it takes a lot of grit and perseverance, and that's what we do each and every day here at Georgia Grinders. We never quite know what the surprise of the day is going to be, but fortunately, we're able to troubleshoot, get things resolved and fixed and just keep grinding and moving forward. But yeah, like Harry said, if it were easy, everybody would be doing it. And it definitely takes a special personality to keep grinding.
David Zelski: So whether you're in the great state of Georgia or need it shipped to you anywhere in the world via their website, give Georgia Grinders a try. It was good enough for Oprah. And you know, you can really taste the passion of Harry, Jamie, and their whole crew and every rich spoonful, plus their flavors will make you go nuts. There I said it. For more stories like this one, you can watch A Fork in the Road on GPB TV or any time on the GPB.org website. GPB.org/Podcasts is where you can listen to and subscribe to this podcast or download it on your favorite podcast platform.
I'm David Zelski. Thanks for listening to A Fork in the Road.
The A Fork in the Road TV show airs Saturdays at noon and Sundays at 6:30 a.m. on GPB-TV. Check your local listings for other replays throughout the week and watch all episodes anytime at GPB.org/ForkintheRoad. Please download and subscribe to the Fork in the Road podcast at GPB.org/ForkintheRoadpodcast or on your favorite podcast platform as well.