The aroma of peanuts fills the air along Morris Avenue, a historic cobblestone road in Birmingham. The scents of cajun spices and other unique flavors are almost impossible to resist.
According to John Cassimus, those smells are Alabama Peanut Company’s best marketing tool.
“Food memories are strong memories, particularly those related to good smells,” said Cassimus. “Coming into the store and having that first thing you smell be roasted peanuts is definitely something special. On a day when Jaime (Thursby, Alabama Peanut’s co-owner) is roasting, the aroma goes out the door and down the street and that alone can be used as advertising.”
Cassimus has been involved with peanuts his entire life. He is the grandson of D.J. Cassimus, the founder of the original Peanut Depot on 2006 Morris Avenue. His grandfather D.J., an immigrant from Greece, began selling candy and peanuts on the same street in 1907.
The business moved to its current location, 2016 Morris Ave after inhabiting the space of previous building owner Caldwell Printing Works in the 1940s. Cassimus passed the reigns of his peanut store on to Thursby and his brother-in-law in 2018, and the two founded Alabama Peanut Company. Since then, the company has been growing and attracting positive attention from a variety of people in the Birmingham area through the Southern art of boiling peanuts.
Before collaborating with Cassimus, Thursby had been searching for a business he could start on his own after a stint as a sales executive at a shoe company.
“We couldn’t find a boiled peanut vendor at my mom and dad’s antique store in Bluff Park so my brother-in-law and I started boiling peanuts in our driveway and selling them on the street,” said Thursby. “After doing a lot of research and finding that nobody was really doing it, we decided to make it a lifestyle brand.”
Original 1907 roasters continue to function perfectly behind the counter and roast peanuts daily. Vintage Coca-Cola signs adorn the brick walls while containers of Goo Goo clusters sit atop wooden shelves.
A wide selection of t-shirts and hats that sport the Alabama Peanut Company name, some adorned with clever slogans such as “Southern and Salty” and “Shell Yeah,” are lined up on display.
“The fun part to me is the marketing side,” said Thursby. “I love the creativity that comes with creating different peanut flavors and shirt designs.”
According to Cassimus, the operation has been consistent for more than a century. Alabama Peanut Company is working hard to ensure the Southern tradition of boiled peanuts stays alive and well in Birmingham for the generation of customers who remember the store from childhood.
“It is near and dear to the hearts of many people in Birmingham,” said Cassimus. “Jaime has customers that are in their 90s that came in as young children with their grandparents.”
After taking over the store in 2018, Thursby quickly learned that the passion for peanuts in the Magic City was much bigger than himself.
“One of the most rewarding and special pieces of the whole thing has been meeting customers and hearing their stories,” said Thursby. “Everybody has a story about this building and the peanut business. It is special to listen to people talk about coming here every weekend as a kid and the nostalgic smells that remind people of their childhood.”
The historical mix of old and new is what provides the perfect combination for peanut enthusiasts and hipsters alike. Incorporating new business strategies and concepts has been a positive experience for Thursby, but he is especially attentive to preserving the history within the walls of the store.
“Everything we change at the store is done slowly and carefully,” said Thursby. “We want to keep our customers happy but also evolve as a company so younger people want to visit the store.”
Gunnar Sadowey is the sports editor for the Crimson. He is a senior from Elkhart, IN. Gunnar is currently a journalism and mass communications major with a print concentration and a German minor.