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For Just Peanuts?

No way! These brothers sell much more than boiled nuts to their hard-core Southern-food fans.

What: Mail-order snack foods, Southern-style
Who: Matthew and Ted Lee of Lee Bros. Boiled Peanuts Catalogue
Where: Charleston, South Carolina
When: Started in 1994

"The idea that you can build a successful business on mail-ordered boiled peanuts is pretty far-fetched," admits Matthew Lee. "But people grow up in places and develop very strong attachments to food." For Matthew, that particular snack of choice is boiled peanuts.

Prior to starting their mail-order business, Matthew and his brother, Ted, were living in New York City, trying to establish careers in art and publishing, respectively. With their professions going nowhere, the pair sought solace in their favorite childhood treat-those unroasted peanuts boiled in salty water and then consumed by cracking open the softened shells and slurping out the contents. But when Matthew couldn't find any in New York, it dawned on him that other transplanted Southerners probably had a hard time finding their favorite Southern foods, too.

So, Matthew, 32, and Ted, 30, moved back to their hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, to set up shop. Start-up costs-"entirely bootstrapped," says Matthew-consisted of $20 for a 25-pound box of raw peanuts. After the success of their catalog, in 1996 the Lee brothers also decided to build a Web site.

Serving a niche market with few competitors has paid off for the company, whose 40-product catalog features a variety of Southern-style foods, including fig preserves, artichoke relish, pickled peaches and-of course-boiled peanuts.

With $150,000 in sales projected for 2001, they're not millionaires yet, but these brothers insist they're right where they want to be. "We're happy to have this catalog held close to us and be privately run," Matthew says. "Our goal is slow growth-not Internet riches. I hope this thing is going to be chugging away 50 years from now."

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This article was originally published in the September 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: For Just Peanuts?.

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