You may never have heard of him but you've probably seen his products. Lee Zalben is known as "The Peanut Butter Guy". The founder of Peanut Butter & Company which began as a New York City sandwich shop in the Greenwich Village neighborhood quickly became a local phenom. Zalben went to Vassar, and his family-owned company began to make natural peanut butter and market it to supermarkets across the country. Today the sandwich shop remains a favorite among New Yorkers and the company continues to grow selling its organic, non-GMO peanut butter, spreads, powders and snacks. Here are 10 things you didn't know about Lee Zalben.
1. Peanut Butter was his favorite food growing up
Like most kids, Lee Zalben's favorite snack growing up was a finger scoop of peanut butter straight from the jar. In fact, his mom had to always have three peanut butter jars on hand, one for Lee, one for his brother and one for the rest of the family that the boys couldn't dip into. Lee remembers peanut butter fondly and was excited because it was the first sandwich he was allowed to make.
2. Lee's peanut butter fascination continued through college
While a student at Poughkeepsie's Vassar College, Lee Zalben's love of peanut butter didn't fade. His college friends and he would have late-night contests to see who could create the most unique and the best tasting sandwiches using peanut butter. After graduating from Vassar in 1995, Zalben worked in advertising and publishing in Manhattan but decided to make a dream become a reality.
3. He opened a popular sandwich shop in Greenwich Village
Lee Zalben and his college buddy, David Brower co-founded Peanut Butter & Company in 1998. They made their own peanut butter and served it on creative sandwiches. The sandwich shop was located in a cafe on Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village. It took off fast. Zalben and Brower also sold their peanut butter out of the shop but soon expanded their marketing to the internet and supermarkets. Peanut Butter & Co. remains family-owned.
4. What's on the menu?
While other restaurants have focused on the peanut butter and jelly sandwich on their menu, peanut butter is the common denominator throughout Peanut Butter & Co.'s menu. The Greenwich Village restaurant is filled with items to remind you of your childhood and gourmet sandwiches. There's the Lunchbox Special and the PB&J Club. The Pregnant Lady comes with a pickle on top. The Elvis comes with a banana on it. Ants on a Log is a celery stick stuffed with peanut butter and topped with raisins. Gourmet sandwiches include The Heat is On with spicy peanut butter, grilled chicken and pineapple jam. With 9 Bites you can choose 3 types of peanut butter spreads and 3 toppings.
5. Natural Ingredients Grown in the USA
Lee Zalben and Peanut Butter & Company believe in using natural ingredients in their peanut butter products. All peanuts used in the company's butter, spreads and powders are made with peanuts grown on a 119-acre Northeastern Arkansas farm. The farm is managed by Greg Baltz who serves on the National Board of Peanuts and has worked in farming for over forty years. Baltz and his wife also run a larger farm that produces peanuts, soybean, rice, and corn. Baltz believes in conservation and sustainability in producing the most natural crops.
Peanut Butter & Co.'s product line has grown in the past two decades. The company carries all-natural peanut butter products including spreads, powder, and chocolate hazelnut spreads. They don't just sell peanut butter by the jar. It also comes in assortments, single servings for dipping and squeezes packs, a nutritious and fun addition to kids' packed lunches.
7. Product Marketing
While Peanut Butter & Co.'s product has become more and more popular, the company continues to market its product in several ways. Peanut Butter & Co. was getting noticed. A few years after the cafe and store opened, Zalben was approached by Dean & Deluca, the SoHo upscale grocery store. They wanted to sell Peanut Butter & Co. products. With that, Zalben's market grew. He began marketing on the internet and selling his product in supermarkets across the country.
8. Jerry Seinfeld is one of his best customers
Lee Zalben's sandwich cafe in the trendy Greenwich Village quickly drew attention in the late 1990's and early 2000's. Several celebrities visited the establishment. One of Zalben's most famous customers was Comedian and sitcom star, Jerry Seinfeld. Zalben named one of his specialty sandwiches "Jerry Seinfeld's Comedy Special". It's a toasted bagel topped with peanut butter, honey, and cinnamon sprinkles. Seinfeld even wrote the forward for Zalben's cookbook.
9. His company released a cookbook
On October 1, 2005, Lee Zalben published his first cookbook. "The Peanut Butter & Co." cookbook, of course, contains fun recipes made with Peanut Butter & Co. peanut butter. There are 80 recipes with appetizing photographs by Theresa Raffetto. Recipes include a PB&J smoothie, a 2 Ingredient Dark Chocolately Dreams Greek Yogurt Dip, Peanut Buttery Cocoa Cookies with Cacao numbs, Spicy Sesame peanut sauce, peanut butter covered banana pops and much more.
10. Lee Zalben continues to run his business
Lee Zalben continues to play a very hands-on role in Peanut Butter & Company. He's President and CEO of the company. He oversees much of the marketing and manufacturing process. The store continues to expand and is one of the most popular organic, non-GMO, vegan products on the market. Today, Peanut Butter & Co. products are available to purchase online and across the country in supermarkets and drug stores.
Written by Allen Lee
Read more posts by Allen Lee