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Paul Atkinson of Prior Lake commutes to Lonsdale’s commercial kitchen on Main Street once a week to make his specialty Big Mouth pistachios. Pictured, Atkinson holds packages of the three flavors currently on the market: Chicken Ranch, Bleu Cheese and Honey Siracha. (Misty Schwab/Lonsdale News Review)

Last April, Paul Atkinson had an epiphany that brought him to Lonsdale’s commercial kitchen at 140 Main St. N. It had to do with pistachios.

“I’m really into fitness, and I was looking for a healthy alternative to the traditional salty snack,” said Atkinson. “I decided to get creative.”

Wandering through the snack aisles of grocery stores, Atkinson noticed a lack of variety in pistachio flavors. He wasn’t looking for salt and pepper or dill either – he wanted something a bit more wild and exotic. As a result, Atkinson started sourcing pistachios commercially 1,000 pounds at a time and seasoning them in three flavors – chicken ranch, bleu cheese, and honey sriracha.

The way people react when they sample his “explosive flavors” inspired Atkinson to call his product Big Mouth Pistachios. As the chef, product developer, lead packager and janitor, Atkinson refers to himself as Chief Big Mouth.

Living in Prior Lake, Atkinson needed to find an accessible commercial kitchen. Scrolling Craigslist, he came across a listing for the one Steve Parry owns in Lonsdale. Now, he drives to the kitchen once a week and produces about 50 pounds of pistachios in a day’s work. Currently, that’s enough to get him through the week.

Atkinson began selling his products earlier this month for $6 per package. About 15 different retail locations sell Big Mouth Pistachios so far, including Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store in Belle Plaine, local brewery tasting rooms and a number of Ace Hardware stores. He also sells his products online at bigmouthpistachios.com.

Before Atkinson began manufacturing Big Mouth Pistachios full-time, he worked in financial sales. To earn the right to distribute Big Mouth Pistachios, Atkinson obtained his licensure with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, found out the nutritional value of the pistachios, and developed the labeling and packaging. He also came up with his own brand/corporate name – Atkinson Artisan Foods.

While Atkinson doesn’t want to share his cooking process, he’s open to disclosing a few pistachio flavors coming soon – dill pickle, au jus, jerky seasoning, buttered popcorn and white cheddar.

As a unique honor, Scott County Economic Development selected Atkinson Artisan Foods as one of five finalists in the Fast-Track Business Challenge. Atkinson pitches his product to a team of judges Thursday, Oct. 25 with a chance of winning $17,000.

As a member of Scott County Economic Development, Atkinson said exposure benefits his product even if he doesn’t win.

“[Scott County Economic Development] has given tremendous help in professional resources,” said Atkinson. “I’ve been working with them a number of months.”

Jo Foust, business development specialist with Scott County’s First Stop Shop, coordinates the Fast-Track Business Challenge and said Atkinson has shown “a lot of business progress” in the short time she’s gotten to know him.

“We’re excited to have Atkinson Artisan Foods as one of our finalists,” said Foust. “Big Mouth Pistachios shows a lot of potential. It’s a great candidate for our Fast Track competition. I wish him, along with the other four candidates, good luck.”

Reporter Misty Schwab can be reached at 507-744-2551. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty.

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