Jeppi's successors are crazy about working with nuts

JACQUES KELLY

October 21, 1992|By JACQUES KELLY

There's a family that figuratively works for peanuts and could not be happier.

Charles Pavlos, son Ted and daughter Marina own and operate the Jeppi Nut Co. on the eastern fringes of downtown Baltimore.

The firm is tucked away at 312 N. High St., in an ancient part of the Oldtown neighborhood, behind the main Post Office.

Directions usually aren't necessary. Customers just follow their noses to the old brick warehouse that sends out the irresistible scent of fresh roasted peanuts.

Each work day, the Jeppi ovens toast a ton -- more or less -- of Virginia-grown jumbo peanuts. These get bagged and are sold to local taverns, carnivals and grocery stores. This house of nuts also sells bulk quantities of walnuts, cashews, pecans, almonds and Brazils.

Now 108 years old, the Jeppi firm is Baltimore's oldest nut company. Charles Pavlos, who is of Greek descent, bought the business some 18 years ago.

"The Greeks used to be the great candy makers. But that was in past generations. Now they've all gone professional -- doctors and lawyers," he says.

As a young boy growing up in Richmond, Va., he had an uncle who with a small peanut roaster sold 5-cent bags of goobers. Pavlos moved to Baltimore when he was 6, graduated from City College in 1939 and ran a tobacco and package goods shop at Park Heights and Belvedere avenues until 1974, when he bought Jeppi. After a few years, his son joined him.

Today, Jeppi's roasts between 1,200 and 3,500 pounds of peanuts a day, depending on demand. The gas-fired roasting ovens resemble iron lungs. A circulating device stirs the nuts so they won't brown too much on one side. It takes about 25 minutes to toast a full load at 400 degrees.

"Our sales are pretty much word-of-mouth. But it gets extremely busy in here the week before Christmas," says Marina Pavlos, who in 1984, fresh out of college, came to work at Jeppi for only a few weeks.

"I never expected to go into this work. That was eight years ago," she says.

The Pavlos family often consults with each other about the products they sell, which have expanded beyond nuts to include candies, dried fruits, chocolate, and snowball and popcorn equipment.

They also offer a large variety of nut mixes, some of them having local names. There's a "Maryland" mix -- cashews, almonds, raisins, sunflower seeds and pepitas. The "college mix" -- raisins, cashews and peanuts -- was so christened when a Morgan State University fund-raiser requested a blend of goodies that could be sold to contributors. The formula took off and it's been a hit ever since.

Charles Pavlos purchased the business in 1974 from Anthony T. Jeppi, whose father, John, went into the peanut business in 1884.

John Jeppi, a fisherman from Cefalu, Sicily, immigrated to Baltimore and entered the fruit and produce trade. He soon specialized in peanuts and other shelled delicacies. Before long, he was known as the Peanut King.

"During the Depression of the 1930s, a lot of street A-rabs stayed in business selling peanuts for a nickel a quart," Anthony Jeppi recalls at his Ruxton home.

And even though he's been out of the business for 18 years, Mr. Jeppi still drops by the old plant.

"It's hard to stay away from a nice family-run business," he says.

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