If you’re Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef, you’d be nuts to leave that gig to pursue other opportunities, right? Well, that is precisely what Paul Gelose, owner of Ricky’s Lucky Nuts, did. Originally from upstate New York, Gelose did his first culinary tour of duty after moving to Steamboat Springs in 1981 to work at the Sheraton as a breakfast chef.
That experience led the aspiring chef, holder of a degree in culinary arts from State University of New York at Cobleskill and a bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management from the Rochester Institute of Technology, to point his compass towards Telluride in 1990. There he owned and operated Giuseppe’s at the top of the Plunge Lift (9), Joe’s Catering, and The PowderHouse Restaurant & Bar. In 1996, the one-and-only “O” tapped him as her personal chef, so he relocated to Chicago for a year. He returned to Colorado in 1997, purchasing the Palace Restaurant in Durango.
The rising star bolstered his culinary knowledge along the way working in American and European hotels, including positions as sous chef at Stein Erickson Lodge, Park City, Utah, and banquet chef at the Sheraton Monterey, California. In Europe he was second pastry chef at Hotel Adula, Flims-Waldhaus, Switzerland, and chef tournant at the Five-Star Kulm Hotel, St. Mortiz, Switzerland. The opportunity to intern at L’Escale, Carry-le-Rouet, France, a one star Michelin restaurant, and Le Petit Nice, Marseille, France, a two star Michelin restaurant, presented itself to Gelose in 1987.
Not one to rest on his laurels, in 2004 Chef Paul used a special function at The Palace Restaurant to test drive an idea. “One night they had a party planned and the hosts were asking for different kinds of bar snacks,” said Matthew Tezak, CEO of Ricky’s Lucky Nuts. “To make a long story short, Paul and Ricky, his sous chef, came up with uniquely flavored nuts. They named them lucky nuts because the party went really well.” Guests that night kept coming up to Gelose and his Ssus chef asking where they could buy the nuts, which for the party, were black pepper and sea salt, and spicy chile chipotle flavored. That’s when the light bulb went on. In the months that followed the party, the gears began turning to take an evening’s bar snacks to the next level—and Ricky’s Lucky Nuts was born.
Now entering its 11th year, the company has long outgrown its humble Durango beginnings where essentially only the two original flavors were available in limited numbers, to now being offered in six flavors nationwide. “Last year we started gaining additional distribution in Colorado, as well as national distribution,” added Tezak. “So now you can find Ricky’s Lucky Nuts among several retailers and convenience stores like 7-11.”
All natural, GMO-free with no artificial ingredients whatsoever, and flavored using a proprietary coating process, the locally roasted, Texas-grown peanuts are popular items in natural foods and specialty stores around Colorado, including Whole Foods, Vitamin Cottage, Marczyk Fine Foods, four Tony’s Market locations and select Sprouts stores.
Among the current lineup of choices are Black Pepper & Sea Salt, a savory combo of seasonings with a little bit of heat; Spicy Chile Chipotle, whose touch of chipotle seasoning provides a bold flavor full of delicious heat, and Thai Red Curry, an exotic flavor that, according to the copy on the package, “is sure to excite your taste buds.”
To satisfy your coffee urges open a bag of Real Coffee flavored nuts, the perfect snack for a late afternoon boost, or chomp down on Sweet Chai nuts, whose hint of cane sugar and chai-seasoning blend makes these nuts super tasty. Introduced last year, the Sweet & Smoky BBQ nuts were an instant hit. Not satisfied with just six flavors, Chef Paul and his colleagues frequently test new recipes that hopefully make the roster. “We want to express our culinary background in our flavors,” explained Tezak. “The objective is to make flavors unique enough for someone to say ‘I’ve never tasted that on a peanut.’ Everybody knows about chocolate covered peanuts, so we go for uniqueness.”
To help create converts, the company has benefited from relationships like the one with Ziggi’s Coffee, whose locations in Longmont, Lakewood, Westminster, and Firestone have been known to serve the Real Coffee flavored nuts to their patrons. Given the proliferation of craft brewing, Ricky’s Lucky Nuts has also garnered some devotees as the result of grassroots supports around the state, including Durango Craft Spirits. “There are a lot of small batch microbreweries from Fort Collins to Loveland to Windsor, and a couple of liquor stores do beer and nut tastings every Friday,” said Tezak. “There is a new distillery in Durango where they have the Spicy Chile Chipotle, and Black Pepper & Sea Salt nuts to serve on the bar with their vodka.”
Demonstrably civic-minded, the company regularly gives away its tasty products to fundraising events whose groups are affiliated with education, the environment, health and those doing good out in the world. It also donates to our troops. Mindful of the importance of American jobs, the company’s flavored nut packaging is made in the USA, the peanuts are grown and harvested in Texas, and the dry roasting and coating are done in Colorado. Illustrating a commitment to environment responsibility, the company and its vendors use a significant amount of recycled products in packaging, shipping and store display materials.
“The colorful packaging entices people to pick up the product and the name puts a big smile on their face,” Tezak explained. “But what really impresses them is the taste. They love the nuts.”
Tear open a bag or two and see for yourself.
THE 411: The nuts are currently available in six flavors with more on the horizon. Check the snack aisles in your local grocery or specialty market. Order online at www.rickysluckynuts.com or call 888-756-6887.
Yummy Recipes: Look on the web site for items like Banana Bread Muffins, a Caramel Sundae, Molasses Ginger Cake, Creamy Cilantro Dip and Thai Noodle Salad, each using one of Ricky’s Lucky Nut’s flavors.
Join In The Fun: The company periodically stages contests online and on its Facebook page (www.facebook.com/rickysluckynuts) so check regularly—you could win some delicious nuts.
BIO: Kim McHugh, a Lowell Thomas award-winning writer, has written about golf, travel, resort hotels, cuisine and architecture since 1986. His stories have appeared in Colorado Expression, Nicklaus, SKI, Rocky Mountain Golf.com, Tastes of Italia, Luxury Golf & Travel, Hemispheres and Colorado AvidGolfer.
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