Big Spoon Roasters


An hour into my tour of Big Spoon Roasters’ newly expanded Durham production facility on Hillsborough Road, I ask Mark Overbay, cofounder and owner, if his nut butters are no-stir.

“I’m so glad you asked,” he says in the most passionate tone I’d heard from him yet. (And the guy is pretty passionate about the entire operation, which he and his wife Megan have built from scratch over the last eight years.)

“When you see ‘no-stir’ on a jar, it means there’s either hydrogenated vegetable oil (trans-fat) in there, or palm oil,” Overbay explains. “Palm oil is notoriously destructive to the environment—it’s the number one source of deforestation in Southeast Asia, which just makes me mad. It’s an ingredient for convenience, but how hard is it just to stir a jar? So, no, our jars aren’t no-stir.”

(Overbay wrote a blog post on palm oil in June 2016, two years before the New York Times and ProPublica published a huge investigation and brought national attention to the issue.)

All of this to say: Big Spoon’s ethos is built on meticulous ingredient sourcing, environmental and social responsibility (it’s also part of Durham’s Living Wage Project), and quality without cutting corners. In 2011, the Overbays’ first year, they sold 4,100 jars of nut butter and 650 hand-shaped bars, mostly from a farmers market booth. Now, they’ve expanded their facility to meet increasing demand from across the country, but they are more committed than ever to maintaining the standards that made them so popular in the first place.

The Overbays founded Big Spoon in January 2011, renting space in various commercial kitchens to make coarse-ground nut butter similar to what Mark had eaten while living in rural Zimbabwe as a Peace Corps volunteer. Megan, a triathlete, started making her own energy bars with the nut butter. The butters and bars were a hit among friends, so they started selling a few dozen each week at their Carrboro Farmers Market booth.

In 2013, they moved into their own production facility, using industrial equipment to make the nut butters and bar “dough,” but still spooning nut butter into jars and hand-shaping bars on a slab table. They used cash flow and took out loans to add machines gradually, and slowly expanded into local specialty stores like Foster’s Market and Parker and Otis. Now, their goods are sold in all forty-two Whole Foods stores in the region, a few North Carolina grocery chains, and specialty grocers nationwide.

2018 was a huge year for Big Spoon. It received a $10,000 grant from Burt’s Bees Natural Launchpad. It hired operations director Mike Silver from Raleigh-based restaurant Neomonde. It expanded its facility to more than double its original size and added a few more machines—one to shape bars, another to wrap them, and one that lids jars. The bar offerings grew from two, Apricot Pepita and Cherry Pecan, to four, with the addition of Figgy Chai and Cranberry Cashew. The company currently sells eleven nut butter varieties and often collaborates with similar-minded companies on limited-edition offerings, such as Tigerwalk Espresso Nut Butter crafted with beans from California-based Equator Coffees and Teas, and an AB&J package featuring Tigerwalk alongside jam from Oregon-based Vintner’s Kitchen. To put its growth into context: Big Spoon sold 4,100 jars and 650 bars in 2011; 87,000 jars and 26,000 bars in 2015; and 140,000 jars and 42,000 bars in 2018.

It’s noteworthy that, in a world of relentless influencer marketing and targeted ads, Big Spoon has grown mostly through word of mouth. Its nut butter was first featured in Bon Appétit in 2011 and has since become a favorite among food editors. It also sponsors ultramarathoner Michael Wardian and obstacle racer Amelia Boone, who tweeted about wanting to find the world’s best peanut butter and ended up choosing Big Spoon.

A far cry from its farmers market days, you can now pick up Big Spoon products at any Whole Foods in the region, countless specialty stores, or online through their website (the bars are also available on Amazon). Just remember, oil separation occurs naturally in non-stabilized nut butters: Stir before eating.