PHOTOS BY ADAM DETOUR
There may be only one praline nut-making Victorian-era expert with knee-length red hair in the world. Her name is Lisa Griffiths, and she started That Nutty Redhead with her partner, John Grant, a little over a year ago in Rockport, Massachusetts. The company is thriving. Cable television fans may recognize Lisa from the couple’s award winning show “All Things Victorian.” Lisa’s deep love of the Victorian era has guided her throughout her life and was ultimately the inspiration for the company’s delicious, soft, kettle-steamed nuts.
Lisa’s interest in the Victorian era began when she was a child in Pennsylvania and her great grandmother Lucy showed her a box of family photos. The box and accompanying family stories captivated Lisa and led to her lifelong fascination with the time period. As John notes, “Lisa’s great grandmother showed her a shoe box of photos from the past. Little did she know that she also was showing her a shoe box of pictures of her future.” After seeing the photos, Lisa began researching the era tirelessly, often losing track of time in the local library. She also began collecting pre-1920 clothing, antiques, and accessories.
Lisa’s mother’s side of the family also sparked her interest in cooking and baking. While soaking up her family’s history, Lisa learned that her maternal great grandparents once co-owned a Pennsylvania candy factory called Swanky Chocolates. Although the family eventually sold Swanky, they continued their baking and candy making tradition for friends and family, and passed on their traditions and recipes to Lisa.
In 2002, Lisa merged her love of the Victorian era with her love of baking and entertaining, and formed the Victorian Tea Society. The group met regularly in her home and enjoyed a full Victorian tea. That year, Lisa was asked to plan and host a Victorian themed birthday party tea while wearing her Victorian clothing. A reporter was there, and wrote a feature story on “The Victorian Tea Lady.” The day the article was published, Lisa’s phone began ringing with requests for parties.
Realizing that she might be onto something, Lisa began researching all aspects of starting a catering business in Pennsylvania, including state and local regulations, licensing, tax implications, suppliers, and marketing. She emphasizes, “You really should do your homework before starting a food business. Be prepared because there is a lot to it. You want to minimize surprises and make sure you’re doing everything up to code. This is imperative in the food business.”
Lisa’s research paid off. She received a residential kitchen license and began hosting. Like her first party, Lisa dressed in Victorian clothing and as partygoers ate, she talked. Her most popular talks were on Victorian fashions, so she began bringing her Victorian clothing trunks, packing them along with three-tiered trays, food, china, and linens in the back of her car. The parties were a huge hit. Unfortunately, they ended in 2006.
That year, Pennsylvania passed a law prohibiting catering from residential kitchens. In addition, her grandmother, Marguerite, with whom she was very close, passed away, and Lisa broke a bone in her back. The business came to “a screeching halt,” Lisa explains, and there was not enough money to invest in a commercial kitchen. It took a long time, she says, for her to bounce back from this trio of setbacks.
But bounce back she did. Temporarily tabling the food aspect of her business, Lisa continued giving popular talks to historical societies, libraries, and garden clubs as “The Victoriana Lady’s Traveling Museum.” Photographer and author John entered Lisa’s life in 2010 and she eventually relocated to Rockport where the couple began planning the next stage of their careers.
In mid-2012, John and Lisa brainstormed about food-based businesses. Their goal was to sell a nutritious and delicious product for which they felt there was an unsatisfied need and that complemented Lisa’s Victorian expertise. During one brainstorming session, Lisa remembered that sugared nuts were a Victorian confection, often referred to as burnt almonds. “THAT’S IT!” the two exclaimed at the same time. Lisa again began her research, this time focusing on Massachusetts food companies and laws, and ultimately creating a soft nut based on her great-great grandmother Ella Mae’s recipe. Seven months later, That Nutty Redhead (chosen by John to acknowledge Lisa’s fun-loving nature) was selling its nuts.
Lisa makes the nuts and while John’s expertise is in marketing and product development, they both work in many aspects of the business. That Nutty Redhead Praline Gourmet Nuts are kettle steamed in the couple’s custom made pralinator, which they affectionately refer to as “The Tin Man.” Steam cooking nuts results in a softer, fresher nut, very different from commercially roasted crunchy nuts. They are made in small batches with natural (locally sourced when possible) ingredients. In addition, they are made without dairy, soy, wheat, eggs, gluten, corn syrup, or peanuts. Lisa stresses, “Many people are afraid to eat nuts for fear of chipping a tooth. I love it when customers try mine and say ‘Hooray! I can eat nuts again!!’"
That Nutty Redhead currently makes several flavors of nuts. Most popular is their New England Praline with Sea Salt, a delicious sweet/salty combination that tastes great on salads, ice cream, and as a snack. The Breakfast in New England blend, my personal favorite, has a mild and perfect toffee taste, reminiscent of French toast. New England Smokehouse presents hickory smoke flavor, without meat or nitrates. It’s perfect on salads, and is a favorite of the company’s male customers. Their most savory nuts are New England Spice, coated with a blend of eight spices, including ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and cumin. In addition, the company recently introduced chocolate fudge, topped with their best selling Praline Sea Salt nuts, and it’s been selling like wildfire.
John and Lisa have big plans for their company. They’ve received inquires from local, state, and national supermarket chains. Now they’re working towards obtaining the UPC codes, nutrition labeling, and packaging necessitated by their planned expansion. While excited by the prospect of a larger market for their nuts and fudge, Lisa emphasizes that the couple remains committed to the local shops, gourmet food stores, and farmers markets that gave them their start because “small business is the backbone of America.”
That Nutty Redhead’s nuts can be purchased at various stores and farmers markets in Massachusetts as well as online at thatnuttyredhead.com.
This story appeared in the Winter 2015 issue.
Deb Kaneb is a freelance writer and former lawyer who owned a local cookie company for 10 years. Her hero is Julia Child and she lives with her lively family of six north of Boston. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.