Saturday, November 28, 2015

When Working For Peanuts Pays Off

The Planters Peanut headquarters in Suffolk, Virginia
Whenever we explore a new area I get online and find out what I can about the place - first Wikipedia, then the town/city/area website if they have one.  I like to know if there's anything I should know about, anything I should see, an historical fact I wasn't aware of and should know.

When we found ourselves in Suffolk, Virginia, I did the same thing.  We've driven through there many times because it's a truck route we often use to and from the Norfolk area, but we've never actually explored it. So when I did some Googling and discovered that Suffolk was the birthplace of Mr. Peanut, the mascot of Planters Peanuts, I knew I had to find him.

I loved the surprise even more when I learned that the founder of the Planters Peanut Company was Italian immigrant Amedeo Obici (Ah-may-day-o O-bee-chee).  Born in Oderzo, Veneto, Italy, he came to the United States in 1889, not speaking a word of English, first landing in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

It was there that he learned about roasting peanuts from his future wife's family, which inspired him to start his own peanut cart. Because roasters were expensive, he made his own from parts he found at a local junkyard, and started selling peanuts from his own cart.  In 1906, he founded his company and within 10 years, had sales in excess of one million dollars!

He and his wife Louise eventually moved to Suffolk, Virginia - the "Peanut Capital of the World" - where he built his new processing plant, which we visited thinking we'd find Mr. Peanut and peanut goodness. We did not.  The security guards directed us downtown to find the statue and the Planters Peanut store.

The Planters Peanut Center has been in business since 1967 and is located in downtown Suffolk and is a nice little window into peanut history.  

The store is tiny, but has a nostalgic feel to it.  There's information about peanuts on the walls, brochures about peanuts, staff who know things about peanuts you never thought you needed to know, and a little poster showing the progression of Mr. Peanut.

An additional fun fact - Mr. Peanut was the brainchild of another Italian, Antonio Gentile. Born in Philadelphia to Italian immigrant parents and living in Suffolk, he submitted his drawings to a contest Planters Nut and Chocolate Company ran when looking for trademark ideas. He won the contest, pocketing a $5 prize.

They roast peanuts daily in the store, using a 1936-model peanut roaster. The bag of peanuts we bought were still warm!

In 1924, Amedeo and Louise Obici purchased the 253 acre Bay Point Farm which is located on the Nansemond River. The Obici House still stands today and is now a wedding venue, meeting space, and the location of the Pro Shop and Bar & Grill for the Sleepy Hole Golf Course.

You can see photos of the interior of the Obici House here

The Obici House and the Bay Point Farm property is now owned by the City of Suffolk and is listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.

You'll also see the Obici name around town.  After her death, Amedeo wanted to create a lasting memorial for his wife so he named a hospital after her - the Louise Obici Memorial Hospital, which is now known as Sentara Obici Hospital.

In addition to the little Mr. Peanut statues lining the fence at the plant, and the one that stands in front of The Obici House, there's also the iconic peanut in a top hat located in downtown Suffolk.  I happen to think the peanut statues are a little small considering the fame of Mr. Peanut and the reach of the Planters Peanut Company (I don't remember any peanuts other than Planters in my life), but he's there if you want to see him in all of his 3-foot glory.

And if you happen to be in Oderzo, Italy, Suffolk's sister city and the birthplace of Amedeo Obici, you'll see another statue displayed there.

It was a gift from Planters.  A reminder that working for peanuts can eventually make a person - an immigrant, at that - a huge success!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
2014: Making Magic With Dough
2013: I'm Sure He Was Delicious
2012: Drowning My Sorrows In Mountain Dew
2011: Red Hair At Night, Truckers Delight. Red Hair At Morning, Truckers Warning.

2010: Rok New York
2009: South Dakota Sky
2008: Nutty Friday
2007: It’s Not So Much Fun To Roll Out Your Best Sales Schpiel On A Mute
2006: Forced Happiness
2005: Firestarter

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