MAYVILLE, N.D. – Lucas and Terri Soine are the first to admit they have a nutty retirement plan.
The Soines plan to expand the almond-smoking business they call Krazy Nuts so they will have a source of income when they retire from their jobs in Hatton, N.D. Lucas Soine is principal at Hatton Eielson School and Terri Soine teaches special education classes there.
“We want something that’s a step into retirement," Lucas Soine said Wednesday, June 10, as he checked a pan of nuts he had just pulled out of a smoker in the garage. On smoking day, Soine spends eight hours making dozens of batches of almonds that will total 100 pounds of finished product.
It may be a long day, but it’s not a hard one, Soine said. That’s one of the reasons he and Terri believe that making and selling Krazy Nutz will be a good retirement project.
“This is, honestly, such a low-stress thing to do,” Soine said. Meanwhile, the overhead costs are low.
“It's pretty cost-effective,” he said.
Soine started Krazy Nutz two years ago after tasting a bag of smoke-flavored almonds his aunt had made for a snack at a golf outing. He liked the flavor, so he decided to try his hand at making something similar. After trial and error making batches using various heating methods, he found one that resulted in the texture he liked.
“We ran it through the smoker, and I said ‘We’re on to something,'” Soine said.
Initially, the Soines gave the smoked almonds as gifts to coworkers, took them to the lake to share with friends and sold some to people who had tasted them and wanted to buy a few bags.
“After people were requesting them, we said ‘This isn’t too costly an endeavor,'” Soine said. That’s when the couple decided to start packaging and selling the nuts commercially and give their business a name.
In March 2018, he and Terri, with the help of their three daughters – Kennedi, Jenna and Lauren – launched Krazy Nutz.
The Soines buy unflavored almonds from a company in California – this spring they purchased 1,100 pounds. Making a batch of smoked nuts is an all-day project beginning with roasting the nuts on large pans in the oven. After the nuts are roasted for a while, they move the nut-filled pans to a smoker.
When the nuts are finished smoking in one of three smokers set up in his garage, he carries the pans back into the kitchen where they, again, go in the oven. In between the roasting, smoking and cooling, Soine flavors the almonds.
Through trial, error and taste testing, the Soines have found which flavors sell and which don’t. Dill, for example, wasn’t a hit with customers, but hickory is.
“I call this Norwegian nice; they’re pretty mellow," Soine said as he nodded toward a bag of hickory-smoked Krazy Nutz. Meanwhile, after trying several heating methods, he came up with a texture most customers prefer.
“I got the crunch that I want. I think most people like a crispy nut,” Soine said.
Figuring out the best flavors, plus the marketing and distribution end of the business, has been a learning experience for the educators.
“This is all fresh and new to us,” Lucas Soine said.
Bags of Krazy Nutz come in the original hickory flavor and bacon-ranch, which will be for sale later this summer.
The Soine family packages the nuts in 4.5-ounce bags at a commercial kitchen in Fargo, setting up an assembly line of weighing, packing and sealing. They set up booths at Pride of Dakota shows in Minot, Bismarck, Grand Forks and Fargo, and sell them in grocery stores and meat markets across central and eastern North Dakota.
The Soines' immediate goal is to find a distributor who will handle putting them in retail outlets so they don’t have to worry about that end of the business.
As Krazy Nutz continues to expand, the Soines hope to buy another smoker and build a shed in which to do the roasting and smoking.
“I’m trying to get to the point where I can maximize my dollar per hour,” Soine said.
For now, he’ll continue to make trips between the kitchen and garage, carrying pans of smoked almonds.
“It’s a summer adventure,” Soine said.