Tucked away on Jones Street, Watanut offers handcrafted, gourmet nut mixes. Housed in a two-story brick building, the nut shop is a bit of a newcomer to downtown; its just celebrating its two-year anniversary as a brick and mortar store after nearly a year of operating purely online.
But this gourmet nut store is the result of hard work and family values.
Fresh out of college, Kam and Bryan Kyzer relocated to Macon to open and run a water bottling company franchise. Over the course of the decade they lived there the family grew by three children. Bryan Kyzer said they enjoyed a good life, but eventually Macon began to lose its appeal, while returning to their hometown started to look very attractive.
As part of the move, the couple decided they would love to create an opportunity for them to work together. While working other jobs, they explored their options and decided on the one that would bring them the most personal satisfaction: providing healthy, handmade snacks.
Both Bryan and Kam are accomplished professionals — Kam has worked with the Boys and Girls Club as a fundraiser at a national level — and both are focused on fitness. Bryan felt there was enough demand for a healthy snack; by combining their diverse interests, skills and backgrounds, the two came up with Watanut.
A writer and businesswoman, Kam was able to take Bryan’s idea of a healthy snack and run with it, developing the Watanut brand and vision— their mantra is “Go Nuts!” —as well as the recipes. Of course, developing a brand doesn’t happen overnight, and involves aspects of business many of us don’t even consider — designing boxes and packaging, sourcing distributors, building website and endless forward planning. The Kyzers knew that in order to make it in Augusta they would have to be on the ball.
“At first, we figured our product could make it easier to get healthy snacks in the mail, or online. Then we formulated some of the mixes to be not-so-good for you,” said Bryan. “That’s when we realized there was such a good market for gift giving; it wasn’t meant to be that at first, but it evolved into it.”
The building the Kyzers occupy is visually stunning. Tucked away on a less-traversed road, the spacious, well-lit rooms, exposed brick, and wood flooring are the perfect backdrop for the gift-boxed gourmet nuts. Samples of each nut mix are available as “nut shots” (no giggling) so that customers can try before they buy. Kam said this was essential.
“You might wonder what Nut Sushi tastes like,” she said, “but if you don’t try it you won’t know.”
Yes, Watanut offers a few different types of pecans, but the mixes take a dive into the non-traditional with their unique flavor creations such as Nut Nog, Pina Colada, Ale Yeah and Curry in a Hurry. Truly bizarre, and rapidly gaining a fan base, these flavor mixes are the passion of the company’s founders.
The mixes are often inspired by the family’s own experiences — places they love, people they love and food they love. The on-site kitchen is where Kam sources ingredients and tests her recipes. The quality of the ingredients is her main concern, and that applies to finding the right flavor combination out of a wide range of options.
“The process takes a long time because I want to make sure I find the perfect mix,” she said. “I might go through 20 suppliers to find the taste I’m looking for, but, in the end, it’s worth it. For our Peanut Butter and Jelly Time mix, I cannot tell you how many dried strawberries we tried. Dried strawberries are not so appealing; some can taste like gummy bears. We literally looked high and dry until we found the perfect dried strawberry.”
The store is open year-round, but the hours change according to the season. The Kyzers open for extended hours around the holidays including Christmas, Valentine’s Day and during the week of Masters — another opportunity for gift-giving. The constant e-commerce and seasonal business keeps the couple busy, but Bryan said the work involved might be demanding, but it’s also rewarding.
“Starting anything from scratch is a lot of work, because it takes a while to get to where you feel like you’re getting some return on it, if you ever do,” he explained. “The thing about Watanut that I love is that I can incorporate my whole family into the business. So, I’ll have my kids down here working, my mother and father help out, and my wife’s aunt. Sometimes with the kids the complaining isn’t worth it — but we are teaching them life lessons.”
Kam added, “It is work — it’s hard work. But we felt it was important to show our kids that it is possible to work hard and enjoy it. You know, you spend 80 to 90 percent of your waking time on your career, but we wanted to spend it together and we want to enjoy it. I hope we convey that to our children and to everyone who walks through the door. It’s a passion.”
Kam says that the passion that drives them means the two are constantly bouncing ideas around, trying out new flavors when inspiration strikes, and always looking at ways to improve. But, seeing their collective efforts flourish has been the greatest reward.
“We’re constantly trying to build a better experience for our customers, but we are juggling responsibilities in our own lives, too,” she said. “We have to still take care of our bills, go shopping and do all the things we would normally be doing, but I think we have made it easier by working together.”