Peanut Butter Entrepreneur
For the past year, Michael Kanter’06 has been crafting three savory peanut butter flavors—Spicy Thai, Honey Chipotle, and Garam Masala—in Portland, Oregon’s Eliot neighborhood. He was featured as an Entrepreneur of the Week in the Portland Business Journal and on the website “Martha Stewart American Made.” The butters are currently sold in 28 stores across Oregon and Washington.
Inspiration came while Kanter was snacking on spicy cashews and wondered how they would taste as a butter. He plopped them in the food processor, sampled the results, and thought: “This tastes good, but then what?” He built the company with the support of many friends, including a few Beloiters. Sam Gaty’06, Kanter’s first-year roommate, created the Kickstarter film for the project, while former floor mate George Costakis’06 provided graphic design. Kanter is engaged to Laura Livingston’06.
Costakis’ most definitive memories of Kanter at Beloit were the dinner parties he would throw with Livingston. “He’s always seemed to have an interest in food for as long as I’ve known him,” Costakis says. “I remember liking to go to those dinners because he would always be trying to make something that I had never heard of, and it usually tasted good.”
Gaty mentioned another early culinary endeavor. “Freshman year, Mike would buy Sour Patch Kids in bulk online. He would get five pound bricks of them in the mail,” he recalls, adding that they used the excess sugar as dipping sauce for chips.
“I think that might be an ingredient in the Spicy Thai peanut butter,” he says.
Yet Gaty mostly remembers Kanter’s interests in college as “politics, socialism, and YouTube videos.” He recalls that it was senior year and after graduation that Mike started to take cooking seriously.
Kanter has similar memories. “I think senior year is when I started to embrace food more and cooking, especially living on my own,” he says. During that same year, he got his first taste of entrepreneurship by designing Beloit-themed Frisbees. Kanter says that the process was a great starting point to learn about launching small businesses, from negotiating shipping to picking a business partner. “I learned a lot of both what to do and what not to do in the future,” he reflects.
Kanter’s main goal now is expansion. “We have a couple more flavors in the pipeline. Hopefully this year we’ll test out at least one of them in stores,” he says. He also hopes to explore viable markets such as Seattle and San Francisco. According to Kanter, versatility is the key to success. Unlike regular nut butters, whose sweet flavors have limited applications, his products can be used to spice up a snack or make easier Thai sauce for dinners. “There’s a lot more you can do to make things more interesting,” he says.