Sweet Retirement: Brittle Master Robert Shull

THe label from Daddy Bob's Peanut Brittle.Robert Shull started making peanut brittle as a Christmas gift for his kids. Years later, after retirement, it grew into a business that brings his homemade brittle to the shelves of Bloomingfoods and other local stores. Keep reading to learn more about the evolution of this tasty, one-man operation.

The best products sell themselves, and that’s how it is with Daddy Bob’s Peanut Brittle. Robert Shull, the Bob behind Daddy Bob’s, takes great enjoyment from the pleasure his brittle brings people, and he’s only now beginning to recover from the brittle-mania brought on by the holidays.

Making peanut brittle started out as a home project. “I don't know where I got the recipe initially, but I started making it as a Christmas gift for my children. I made some at home while they were kids, and they liked it a lot so when they went off to college and various other places I would send them peanut brittle in a baggie, and they would tell me how good it was,” he said.

In 2008, a few years after retiring, Shull decided become a professional purveyor of brittle. “He has always been this fabulous peanut brittle maker, and his kids and I always said he ought to go into business, but I was a little surprised when he actually did it,” said Susi Miller, Shull’s wife.

Bob making peanut brittle.

Deciding on a name was the first order of business. “We went through about a hundred different names, anywhere from the obscene to the ridiculous, and finally I settled on Daddy Bob even though it wasn’t one of the names I went over and over and over,” Shull said. Susi drew a small caricature of her husband which became the friendly Daddy Bob mascot on the packages of brittle.

Next, the art of brittle making needed to be refined. Shull was able to secure the use of a certified kitchen, and started adapting his cooking process to a retail scale. These days, when things get busy, Shull uses all four of his pots at once; three pots cook on the stove while the contents of the others are being poured to solidify. “By the time I’ve finished the last pot I’m going to cook, the first sheet has cooled,” he said.

Trial and error went into the expansion of his product line. Peanut brittle was a given; Shull uses Spanish peanuts because they taste the best in brittle. Pecan and cashew brittle are also dependably  popular staples. Peanut brittle with chocolate nibs got mixed reviews because the nibs got stuck in people’s teeth. Coffee flavor was an interesting idea, but Shull found that the beans lost their flavor after being cooked at 300 degrees. He’d love to sell macadamia brittle, but so far it’s been a slow seller. “People who know macadamias love them, and may be willing to pay the high price for them. But they just don’t sell fast enough with my limited production,” he said.

The basic formula for all the brittles has remained the same over time. “The only way I’ve changed the recipe since the beginning is to add, instead of one pound of nuts, I add 17 ounces of nuts,” because people like to have a nut in every bite, Shull said. Nothing goes to waste: the nut-less bits get taken home and ground into crumbs. “It makes an excellent topping for ice cream and cereal, instead of sugar,” Shull said.

Shull is willing to travel great distances to make sure people get to enjoy his brittle. Last fall on his website, he offered to deliver his brittle anywhere in the U.S., at the rate of $1 per mile. So far, there haven’t been too many requests, but the brittle itself has made it as far as Washington, D.C., Colorado, and even Germany. “I’ve even given some to some of our state representatives, so numerous people in the state house have tried it,” Shull said.

The holiday season is great for business. At his busiest, Shull will go into the kitchen in the early afternoon and not emerge until nighttime. “Once I’m there, I’m listening to the radio as I’m cooking, I don’t mind working alone, and nobody else is telling me what to do,” he said.

In fact, staying a one-man operation is part of Shull’s vision; he doesn’t want Daddy Bob’s to turn into a massive business. “That’s too much like work. I’m retired. This is a fun thing,” Shull said. Making people happy is fun. Producing peanut brittle wins a lot of hearts and gushing reactions. “When you produce a product that creates that kind of response, it’s a heady thing,” Shull said.