When it comes to nut butters, less is more
Words by Matheson Carroll
Often, dreams are realized, voices are found, and habits are formed in the early 20s. A young person’s exploration of cities complements the questioning, thought processes, and opinions, and inside-and- outside-of-classroom experiences, understandably, shapes the mind and heart.
All this proves true for Mark Overbay, cofounder of Big Spoon Roasters, a Durham, North Carolina-based nut butter and snack bar brand. When his father was diagnosed with diabetes, Overbay’s interest in nutrition exploded. A desire to educate himself and his loved ones—in a world of limited information on metabolic disorders at the time—planted a seed in him that would, years later, grow into something much bigger than himself.
Overbay was raised by a “family of gardeners,” where digging potatoes and picking okra at holiday gatherings were the norm. “When you’re raised in a family that holds a true reverence for food, it sticks with you,” Overbay said. “We grew up understanding that food wasn’t just fuel, but that it brought people together.”
The food that stuck with him—his favorite since childhood—was, and is, peanut butter.
After starting a cooking club in college and diving even deeper into the world of nutrition, Overbay began his professional career post-graduation in the publication business. As a reporter for a sustainability-focused magazine, he researched and wrote on topics such as complex water systems and farming patterns of indigenous peoples. A deep understanding of the intersection of food systems, agribusiness, and environments brought his simmering fascination with food and nutrition to a rolling boil.
Following his career as a journalist, Overbay served in the Peace Corps in Zimbabwe in the late 90s and early 2000s as a local high school English teacher. Living among the minority tribe, Overbay was exposed to a completely different kind of gardening and farming. Day-long labor was the mode of survival. Anything that was put on a table to eat was sourced in family gardens from the ground up. This profoundly impacted his perspective on food, survival, and industrialization.
Then the African communities offered Overbay a true “epiphany-like opportunity”—ground nuts. Missing his favorite snack while in Zimbabwe, Overbay attempted to create his own nut butter from this most popular form of protein in the region. He tossed in honey, salt, and coconut oil, and pounded it into a paste.
“To this day, it was the most delicious butter I’ve ever tasted,” Overbay said. “I realized in that moment that I could do so much with so little.” It was a moment of monumental magnitude for Overbay and his wife and cofounder, Megan.
When Overbay’s Peace Corps service was complete and a few job transitions were behind him, he was snack hunting on a normal afternoon in 2010, when he realized he had no idea where to purchase truly handmade nut butter. Dropping everything, Overbay sprinted to the nearby grocer to pick up nuts, salt, butter, and oil, with the aim of recreating that epiphany moment in Zimbabwe. As he blended the ingredients to perfection in his food processor, he caught a vision of the nut butter-paved path ahead.
In the spring of 2011, Overbay launched Big Spoon Roasters at a North Carolina farmers market. While making nut butters and nut bars from scratch in their home, Mark and Megan kept their day jobs and labeled product jars together at night while binging their favorite TV shows.
The company name is in honor of Mark’s father, whom he called Big Spoon because of their shared love for big spoonfuls of peanut butter. Overbay also credits his father with kick-starting his interest in nutrition that has carried him to where he is today.
Day by day, Big Spoon grew as the Overbays sharpened recipes and researched production practices. Their aim is to remain true to the small-batch manner in which their products are crafted, ensuring a high caliber of taste and freshness. Big Spoon is a living, breathing manifestation of the phrase, “less is more.”
After a short time of selling products at farmers markets and to friends, the Overbays expanced Big Spoon into a full-time gig. Although founding a food brand was not a goal, Big Spoon came to fruition as “an organic extension” of their lives and values—primarily, “community interaction and quality of food and business.”
Entirely self-funded, Big Spoon is on “an intentional path to steady growth.” To the Overbays, the most important ingredients of their business are curating a healthy relationship with the planet while providing nutritious and delicious food, without compromise, maintaining the flavor profile of the product, providing quality ingredients, and protecting transparency in every transaction.
When sourcing ingredients for their nut butters and bars, the Overbays consider flavor and texture of the ingredients, in addition to the values of their producer partners.
What many consumers may fail to realize is that farming, production, and food products encompass a myriad of other issues such as working conditions, environmental sustainability, labor practices, packaging, social justice, and more. The Overbays keep these in mind in their daily operation and as they plan for the future of the Big Spoon brand.
Making all products in-house, Big Spoon aims for its production to be a “point of pride” within the community and a skilled and valuable job for its family of employees. In addition to remaining true to small-batch quality, Big Spoon is working to debunk and redefine employment stereotypes and foster healthy eating practices within North Carolina and beyond.
The Overbays also seek to give back to hunger-related causes within their local community, aim for a zero-waste company, offer generous employee benefits that are nearly unheard of for small businesses, and provide profit sharing. Creating delight for customers through their better-for-you nut butters and bars, Big Spoon is simultaneously changing the game and raising the bar for competitors and peers alike, and making the world a better place.
“It is important for us to create a business that we ourselves would want to work for,” Overbay said. When care of craft collides with the intent to do something well, extraordinary things transpire—and Big Spoon Roasters is a big spoonful of an example.