Eight months ago, my family, a colleague and I opened Nutkrack, a little shop in Madison, Wisconsin. We make candied pecans in very small batches by hand. Each facet of our operation is done with care, diligence and the hope that our product can become part of a positive food memory for you and your loved ones. We feel flat out lucky to be able to do this and to share Nutkrack with other people.
Food has always been important to me. All of my memories, and I do mean all of them, have a taste or smell associated with them. My earliest memory is traveling on a train to visit relatives, and I remember the taste of turkey and gravy. Circus peanuts? Yeah, no thanks. My mom’s chicken soup simmering with homemade egg noodles - I want that right now and always.
I’ve been making food since I was very young. My mother is one of the best cooks I’ve ever known. She raised my brothers and me on her own, and could seem to make anything from nothing. She cooks with love and imparted that art to me. I have tried for the last 50 years to do the same. I’ve been baking, cooking, chef-ing and now running Nutkrack for well over over 40 years. My resume includes being a founding member of an aerial dance company and a professional puppeteer; I speak Mandarin (gradually less well), being the chef at one of the country’s best restaurants, corporate chef for Sub-Zero/Wolf, and the job of a lifetime as Executive Chef for Epic, a medical software company. There, our team feeds from scratch, about 8,000 colleagues a day, with some events that reach 14,000 people in a day. I work with incredibly talented people there who challenge and teach me how to be better at pretty much everything. When not working, I catch large, toothy fish through holes in the ice, and have co-raised three truly extraordinary humans. All in all, I know at the core of my being that I am truly blessed to have had these experiences and opportunities.
About 15 years ago I was, as chefs often do, cooking several things at once, using 8 or 9 different pots and pans that were in various states of cooking. One of my projects was to make candied pecans, the way I had always done them. I somehow managed to transfer the pecans into the “wrong” pot, resulting in a few bad words and pecans that I assumed were ruined. I planned to throw them away. Turns out, those “ruined” pecans were the start of what is now known as Nutkrack. I ate over a pound of them that day. Chefs typically don’t do that, but I just couldn’t stop! A couple of weeks later I recreated them, this time intentionally, and added a little salt at the end. I had some friends try them and they had the same reaction. I’d like to think I’ve made a lot of great food over the years - but I have never seen people react to anything I’ve made the way they do to Nutkrack.
For years, I gave Nutkrack away as holiday gifts. Over time, family and friends kept asking when I planned to start a business making them. A few years ago while on vacation in my favorite part of the world, I watched four of my closest relatives unknowingly polish off over four pounds of the pecans without even realizing it. That day we entertained possible names for the candied pecans. Nutcracker and Nutkrack were both possibilities. Nutcracker was already claimed, so we went with Nutkrack.
As a business owner, I feel extraordinarily fortunate to have the staff we do at Nutkrack. My eldest son Kellen and I make all the Nutkrack. Kellen’s younger brother Colson, when he’s not forging beautiful, high-end chef knives (he’s 14 - really) is a big help at the shop, too. My colleague Jess is the brains and structure behind everything we accomplish here. I’ve worked with Jess for about 7 years now and we really complement each other’s strengths and abilities. Michelle, an old friend from my days at the Ovens of Brittany, watches over our retail shop and also creates our social media presence. Emma came to us in late November; she’s great with our customers and at helps out with our packaging and shipping. And Kellen’s long-time girlfriend Sam is an absolute whiz at seaming and labeling and has bailed us out of trouble too many times to count. There have been countless others who've helped us along the way over the last two years of making this dream a reality, and we appreciate you all!
Not unlike most small, new businesses, we have big dreams and ambitious plans. Our product has been received very well thus far. The holidays were a new and extraordinarily challenging time for us. We learned a great deal, and we hope to have created fond food memories for those who had a chance to try Nutkrack.
So here we find ourselves, eight months since opening, having come through our first holiday season, and very much looking forward to working hard in 2019. In the first quarter of this year we are working to expand our regional retail presence through wholesaling to various shops in the Midwest. We put a strong emphasis on sampling out Nutkrack because we feel that it is genuinely delicious and unique. I can be found on the weekends handing out Nutkrack, a few nuts at a time, to customers of our retail partners. I love telling our story and sharing what we have to offer.
Thanks for taking the time to get to know us a little better. We’d love to meet you and hear a little of your story. Stop by our shop on Atwood for a sample, check out Michelle’s work on social media, or visit one of our many local retail partners. We can’t wait to meet you!