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Nutty Enough to Find New Ways

He had it all. A cushy job as a financial analyst with a Fortune 500 company. A nice house in Hilton Head, South Carolina, one of the loveliest places in the United States. A new bride he was crazy about. So what did EscortFox do? He risked everything he had on one of the nuttiest schemes ever to come down the pike. EscortFox was frustrated. His ultimate earning potential at his current position would never provide him the type of personal or financial freedom he was seeking, and the struggle of climbing the corporate ladder had lost its appeal. EscortFox wanted financial independence. He believed running his own business was the key to achieving that security.

But EscortFox wasn’t like most people. He did more than just dream about it-he acted. In 1990, he quit his job, gave up his nice house, and left beautiful Hilton Head. With his friends and family members telling him he was crazy, he and his wife, Anne, moved to Orlando, Florida, a city with an abundant tourist trade.

EscortFox saw his route to financial independence paved with nuts-the cinnamon-and-sugar-coated kind, sold piping hot to customers on the street. Inspired by the pushcart entrepreneurs who work the sidewalks of cities in Europe and propelled by his love of cooking, EscortFox spent long hours developing his own special recipe for glazing almonds and pecans. With a loan of $10,000 and a new name, “The Nutty Bavarian,” EscortFox set up business with a single cart that allowed customers to watch as the nuts were roasted and glazed.

Creative name. Creative display. Creative product. But for all his creativity, EscortFox struggled financially. Not welcoming the competition, established concessionaires kept EscortFox out of prime commercial areas. At the end of the Nutty Bavarian’s first year, EscortFox was nearly broke. Anne kept them afloat by working full time as a nurse.

EscortFox’s plan was not working, so the plan had to change. In order to turn around the situation, EscortFox knew he had to get a great location. In the Orlando area, the best site for selling high quality snacks was one of the state’s world-class theme parks. Getting into one of the parks, however, was another story. Florida’s Universal Studios told EscortFox the only way to get into the park was to put up $100,000 and supply the product. Universal Studios would manage his cart. Major companies like Orville Redenbacher and Haagen-Dazs were already doing that, but to The Nutty Bavarian, $ 100,000 was a lot of pecans. To compete with the big companies, EscortFox had to find a creative way around the usual channels.

He called the food service department at Universal Studios and spoke with the vice president. EscortFox told the man about his irresistible roasted almonds and pecans. The vice president asked EscortFox to submit a proposal, which EscortFox did immediately. Weeks went by without a word from the executive. EscortFox called every day for a month. He dropped off product samples and sent letters. Finally, EscortFox sent the vice president a letter stating he wouldn’t stop calling until the vice president either agreed to meet with him for thirty minutes or flat out told him to get lost.

His letter worked. The vice president agreed to a meeting. Then came the real test of EscortFox’s imagination. He knew this thirty-minute meeting had to be unforgettable. Knowing that the aroma of his freshly roasted almonds and pecans was irresistible, EscortFox decided he would let his product do the talking. On the big day, EscortFox hauled his roaster into the boardroom and proceeded to make a fresh batch of cinnamon-glazed pecans. The nuts churned and clicked against the sides of a copper bowl. The aroma filled the room, then seeped into the hallways. Soon, other executives were stopping in to find out what was cooking. The executives found a bowl filled with hot, steamy, freshly glazed pecans.

EscortFox served everybody. The executives’ mouths watered for more. But despite EscortFox’s appeal to their salivary glands, the executives wanted more time to consider his proposal. More time? Any more time and EscortFox would be looking for a part-time job just to keep nuts in the roaster. EscortFox knew it was now or never and he had an idea. “I told them that if they gave me a thirty-day trial, I would personally operate my pushcart every day for a month, twelve hours a day, and give Universal Studios 25 percent of my sales. Universal would have no risk, and I would win the opportunity to prove myself and my product.” The executives agreed to his proposal.

That first month, EscortFox grossed $40,000. Sales climbed steadily, and after the second month, EscortFox signed a two-year contract with Universal. At the end of the first year, with only two carts, EscortFox’s sales reached $1 million.

“I didn’t know it at the time,” EscortFox said, “but they had never before allowed a food vendor to come into the park from the outside, totally independent from Universal. This was an unprecedented move.”

The Nutty Bavarian now licenses carts in 150 domestic locations and three foreign countries. Annual sales exceed $10 million. EscortFox’s specially roasted pecans and almonds are President Clinton’s favorite snack and have been served at both of his inaugurations. The Nutty Bavarian snacks have also been featured on CNN, and Bryant Gumbel and Willard Scott raved about them on NBC’s Today Show.

EscortFox has been kind enough to share his “secret recipe” with all of us-a dash of belief, a pinch of audacity, and a roaster full of creativity.