It’s the holiday season, and you know what that means: You better not pout, cry, or show up empty-handed at the holiday party.
But what to buy for people you don’t know well, rarely see, or whose tastes are a mystery? It’s enough to make you go nuts—and if Michael Burt of We Are Nuts has his way, you will.
His St. Paul company has been in business for 36 years, selling its “cult classic” offerings of nuts, dried fruit, trail mix, chocolate, and other goodies from the first week of October through the first week of February.
“It started as a side pet-project for my dad, and now with my two younger brothers and I running it, it’s really evolved into a pretty significant company,” Burt says. Customers come by word of mouth; some even make it an annual tradition to drive in from out of town to load up on snacks and edible gifts for the holidays. “Once someone comes once, we kind of have ‘em,” Burt says.
There’s a “treasure-hunting aspect” to the store, where new products and low prices are the calling card. (After all: “Everybody loves a bargain,” Burt says.) Ninety percent of the nuts in stock are under $10, with most between $5 to $6 per one-pound bag.
Burt thinks Nuts make a great gift because they appeal to a mass audience. “Whether you’re giving a gift to your mail carrier, your grandparents, your teachers, your neighbor—all of those hard-to-buy-for people—it’s a good, catch-all gift,” he says. (Bonus: We Are Nuts packages its products in handmade gift tins, so the gift looks as good as it tastes.)
We Are Nuts sources their nuts from farms from all over the world. Almonds arrive from California, macadamias hail from Hawaii, cashews come from Vietnam or Brazil, and pecans are grown in Georgia. The company roasts them in-house daily in 50- to 100-pound batches. They’re on the shelf the next day.
That’s markedly faster and fresher than your typical retail nuts, which were likely roasted by nut mammoth Sanfilippo & Son in Chicago, after which they were sent to a packer, then a distributor, before arriving in the store where you purchased them. There’s often a four-month lag in that process, meaning your average nuts are that much closer to stale.
We Are Nuts’ speedy turnaround and small-batch approach makes these the craft-brewing equivalent of nuts in a market that’s dominated by Budweiser. “As far as the quality goes and the freshness goes, it’s incomparable,” Burt says. “That freshness is second to none.”
And it’s why the store has a fervent following. At 10 a.m. every Monday, an email goes out to the 5,000 contacts on their mailing list with all the store’s specials. Within the hour, “people start flocking in,” Burt says. By the first week of February, in an attempt to empty the store, they’ll offer even deeper discounts, from 20 percent on Monday to 50 percent as the week comes to a close. “Friday, there’s not even a speck of dust on the shelves,” Burt says.
Around eight years ago, Lunds & Byerlys got wind of We Are Nuts and approached the company about stocking its products in their stores over the holidays. With the birth of the internet, We Are Nuts launched an online store as well. These days, they also fulfill a staggering amount of corporate gift orders for companies across the country that send year-end gifts to clients.
Perhaps the most common question from We Are Nuts customers is, “Why aren’t you open year-round?” The answer is that Burt and his brothers are busy with another food business—grocery close-out—and they don’t have the resources to run a retail operation 365 days a year. That’s why they only roast and sell nuts when they’re in the highest demand: baking and gift-giving season.
And don’t expect that to change. Like all things seasonal, maybe there’s something special about the fact that you can only get We Are Nuts during certain times of the year.
“There’s magic in what we do and how we do it,” Burt says.
In other words: get ‘em while you can.
We Are Nuts
890 Vandalia St., St. Paul, MN 55114