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March 02, 2006 - Image 78

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2006-03-02

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Lee Zalben invites us all to revisit his childhood.



ah, the golden
days of youth.
Afternoons spent
building snowmen
or darting through the sprinklers
gave way to playing ball until the
streetlights came on and sleepover
parties. And many a lunch menu
featured that staple of American
cuisine: peanut butter and jelly
Our craving for nostalgia is evi-
denced everywhere we go, includ-
ing New York City's Greenwich
Village. On any given street, one
may come across clothing boutiques
brimming with vintage designs and
shop windows enticingly displaying
fresh-baked pink-frosted cupcakes.
Or, in the case of Peanut Butter
& Co., customers are beckoned to
stop in to sample jars of peanut-
butter-based concoctions. The
brainchild of Lee Zalben, 32, the
cozy shop is reminiscent of a school
lunchroom with sunny yellow walls,
plain wood tables and shelves lined
with vintage lunch boxes and
peanut-butter kitsch. Beginning
with six sticky flavors — including
Cinnamon Raisin Swirl (tastes like
cinnamon-raisin toast with peanut
butter) and the Heat Is On (blend-
ed with fiery spices) — that are
available nationally, Zalben offers a
dozen sandwich combinations
served on colorful Fiestaware.
Among the customer favorites are
the Lunchbox Special of classic PB
& J and the Elvis, a decadent grilled
combo of peanut butter and banana
drizzled with honey (bacon is optional). Also on the
menu are similarly nostalgic comfort sandwiches such
as bologna, chicken salad and grilled cheese, all
served on thick slices (to evoke the little-hand feel-
ing) of white or whole-wheat bread (yes, they'll cut
off the crusts) and accompanied by potato chips and
carrot sticks. For dessert? An assortment of peanut
butter-laden treats, including Peanut Butter Cookies,
Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie and Peanut Butter

34 • % 1

R 11


Lee Zalben, aka the Peanut Butter Guy, has a snack in front of his shop in New York City.

The shop has developed a passionate following,
including Jerry Seinfeld, who wrote the foreword to
Zalben's book, The Peanut Butter & Co. Cookbook
(Chronicle Books; $16.95), which hit bookstores last
November. His fans' love of downing gooey gourmet
blasts from the past have made Zalben's enterprise
the fastest-growing peanut-butter company in the
world: Within his first two years in business, Zalben's
jars of peanut butter were available in 4,000 stores

Growing up in Philadelphia, Zalben spent a lot of
time around both food (he, his mother and his broth-
er each had their own jar of peanut butter with their
names on it) and the entrepreneurial spirit: His
grandmother's kosher catering business was the
largest in the city. "Food is such an important part of
our culture — and especially Jewish culture," says
Zalben. "It marks happiness, sadness and religious
holidays. 1 recall eating latkes at Chanukah or matzah
ball soup any time, and it takes me back to family

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