It is his real name.
Tootie Martin, christened after a nickname his father was given as a child, was raised in Panama City, Florida. That’s not far from “The Peanut Capital of the World,” Dothan, Alabama, and near a large peanut butter factory in Enterprise, Alabama. “You could smell peanuts in the air all the time,” he says.
Though he spent much of his youth with his mother in a housing project in Panama City, he lived in Enterprise when he was eight with his great aunt, adjacent to a farm. “We would literally go across the street, pull the peanuts up from the soil, and drag them back to the house,” he says.
A fortuitous turn of events yanked him from that native soil and planted him in St. Paul. In 2000, Tootie’s close friend was heading to Concordia University. With some help from that family, Tootie was offered a chance to attend as well. He’s now the director of development for the school.
But when you eat, sleep, and breathe peanuts from a young age, that taste of home never leaves you. In Minnesota, Tootie couldn’t find any boiled peanuts that weren’t from a can. “I thought, ‘Either Minnesotans don’t like boiled peanuts, or they haven’t been exposed to them.’”
It was the latter, as it turns out. So Tootie took matters into his own hands.
“I started a business that was just me, a tent, and a pot,” he says. “I was going around the farmers market saying, ‘Bald peanuts! Bald peanuts here!’ And people were looking at me like, ‘What are bald peanuts?’
“So I had to learn how to pronounce ‘boiled,’” he laughs. “Eventually I did.”
Tootie sports a smile so big you might think you’ve walked in just after the punch line of a really great joke. But that’s just his smile, and the only joke is on those of us who aren’t as blissful as he is, dressed in all black save for his bright yellow bowtie, selling boiled and fried peanuts at the Midtown Farmers Market. He also has a commercial kitchen in Lonsdale, Minnesota, and takes orders on tootiespeanuts.com.
“The next step for me would be to get into the breweries and distilleries, have a concessions trailer, and my ultimate goal is the Minnesota State Fair,” he says.
Yet even that wouldn’t be the last stop for Tootie. He wants to expand to beyond a man, a pot, and a tent, to have a staff of peanut devotees—and he wants to employ convicted felons.
“I have seen it in my own community growing up in Panama City, Florida, the effects of men and women coming back after being incarcerated and they can’t find stable employment. That to me is a travesty.”
More than a stable job, Tootie hopes to offer an inspiring story: “I want them to think, ‘If this guy can have a business doing peanuts, then I can use the gifts that I have.’ I want that to be the model for Tootie’s Peanuts.”