At the door of her Rockport home and business headquarters, Lisa Griffiths greets a visitor.
“Welcome to the nuthouse.” It’s not that Griffiths’s business is crazy, exactly, but it is nuts. Almonds and cashews and pecans, to be precise, steamed, seasoned, and sold across the North Shore under the name That Nutty Redhead.
“I like to call them ‘healthy comfort food,’” says Griffiths, the redhead who gives the brand its name.
The rapidly growing business has a decidedly modern sensibility—the nuts contain no chemical additives and are certified gluten-free—but the story behind it stretches deep into Griffiths’s family history. As far back as she can remember into her childhood in Pennsylvania, baking and cooking were important traditions in her family; some of her earliest memories involve shaping cookies and rolling out pie dough, she says.
Griffiths’s passion became her profession in 2002, when she started throwing tea parties for other young mothers, complete with homemade scones, finger sandwiches, and, of course, candied nuts. One of the regular attendees asked Griffiths to cater a similar party for her mother’s 80th birthday. The event was a hit and more gigs followed.
Lisa Griffiths sells her nuts through Willow Rest in Gloucester
“My phone started to ring off the hook,” she says.
When she moved up to Massachusetts in 2012, Griffiths knew she wanted to start another food-based business, something more niche than catering. She settled on seasoned nuts when she had trouble finding a version she liked in stores.
She set about perfecting her recipe, starting with one for sugar-glazed “Burnt Almonds” from Scientific Cooking with Scientific Methods, a turn-of-the-century cookbook she inherited from her grandmother.
“I spent the better part of a year in the kitchen, experimenting with different recipes,” she says.
That Nutty Redhead made its debut as a vendor at the Rockport Harvest-Fest in October 2013, with two varieties: Breakfast in New England is the sweeter blend, with maple and toffee flavors reminiscent of French toast, while New England Praline with Sea Salt is a more savory version, featuring vanilla and salt.
Shortly after the official launch, Griffiths and her business partner, John Grant, began sending samples to retail outlets throughout the North Shore. The positive response was immediate. A year and a half later, the nuts are sold in more than 20 shops and farm stands, including three Crosby’s Markets, Salem’s Picklepot, and Willow Rest in Gloucester.
The secret to That Nutty Redhead’s popularity lies as much in what Griffiths doesn’t do as in what she does. She keeps away from common allergens—her nuts contain no peanuts, wheat, soy, dairy, or eggs. She never sweetens with corn syrup, and she never deep fries her nuts.
She has encountered some skepticism about this last point. Some people, she says, were skittish about a steamed nut. “I just stood my ground and said, ‘Give it a try.’ As soon as they tasted them, they were won over.”
Griffiths still produces her product in her small Rockport kitchen. A custom-made machine for steaming and glazing sits on one side of the room; when she is in production, trays of nuts cool on the counters.
Griffiths is laying plans for launching into major retail stores. In the fall, she ran a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising more than $8,000 to fund the design and production of new packaging, which will meet the standards of larger stores. Her goal is to get into as many natural and whole food stores as possible. “I can’t wait until I outgrow the kitchen,” she says. thatnuttyredhead.com