The Long Run: How Herman’s Nut House Became Marathon (Ad)Ventures
Jul 24, 2020 08:49AM
By Tara Spencer
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
Legacies have been known to become bigger after succession—such as when Karl Lagerfeld headed Chanel or Disney took over Marvel. While they may not have quite the same name recognition, Herman’s Nut House is one such Omaha legacy.
In 1915, Herman Mirowitz, a European immigrant, founded Herman’s Nut House in Omaha. Mirowitz started the business out of his home, roasting peanuts to sell. His nephew, Joe Fishel, took over in the 1940s. Not only did he expand the product line, he obtained placement for their products in grocery stores across Nebraska, later expanding around the central United States.
Eventually, Herman’s Nut House was bought by Alan Baer & Associates—an umbrella company for wide-ranging business interests, including Pear’s Coffee—who added the acquisition to their holdings and consolidated its operations in Omaha. A few years later, the company changed hands again.
In 2004, John Larsen went for a run with his friend Mike Sortino. Larsen said he was “blessed to be laid off” at the time.
“The whole notion of working together came up,” Larsen said. He added that since they were running partners, the name Marathon Ventures Inc. seemed to fit. “That was the origins of the name of the company.”
It might sound a little unconventional, but it fits with Larsen’s business background. He has a degree in electrical engineering from University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “After college, [I] went down a nontraditional path and worked for the public accounting firm of Arthur Andersen.” He spent 11 years doing business consulting work in Chicago before making the move to one of his clients, CSG Systems in Omaha.
That’s where he met Marathon Ventures’ current director of marketing, Krista Daly, whose versatility proved advantageous.
“She likes diversity in projects…so forever, I had her in charge of special projects, because she’s very talented and can do a lot of things,” Larsen said. It was only recently, “just the last three or four years,” Daly said, that she was able to focus her full attention on marketing. “Krista is kind of the architect of our new line,” Larsen added, which includes the popular Everything Bagel Cashews.
When Marathon Ventures took over the company, it had lost a large client and was “heavily distressed.”
“We knew they’d lost it,” Larsen said. “You go in with a lot of confidence, and you don’t know what you don’t know, but you’ll figure it out. And in the end that really is the formula—you figure it out.”
Larsen, like others, believes that luck is at the corner of hard work and planning, and he admits there was some luck involved.
He said when they first took over, nuts weren’t exactly “in vogue,” from a health perspective. “They really weren’t viewed nearly as favorably, from a dietary standpoint, as they are today. So that certainly has worked to our favor.”
Their customer service is also a hit with at least one heavy purchaser of their product. Susie Robison, owner of gift and candy shop Master’s Hand in Tekamah, has bought nuts from Marathon Ventures for at least 16 years.
“We started working with them because we were trying to source nuts where we didn’t have to have it shipped,” said Robison. “We have built a relationship with them. They have been so kind to us…If I order from them and I make another order pretty quickly after that, they are like ‘way to go.’”
They were also fortunate to be in a position to pivot when the financial crisis hit in the mid-2000s, when there was a big movement toward private or store brands. “We had credentials in that area that we leveraged to gain some national accounts doing private brand business for store brands,” Larsen said, adding that this is an area that continues to sell well.
While they may not bear the name Herman’s Nuts, the products are still out there. Whether roasting the perfect healthy snack or a topping for a favorite treat, this 100-plus-year-old company is in it for the long run—in other words, a marathon.
This article was printed in the August/September 2020 issue of B2B Magazine.