The Peanut Man Cometh
Gallery: Vic Kilchrist, Acadiana’s Peanut Man [6 Images] Click any image to expand.
By Scott Brazda / Photos by Scott Brazda
“Do you mind being called ‘Vic the Peanut Man’?”, I asked.
“Not at all, not at all. That’s what I am, and... “
“And, what?” I asked.
“And it’s better than what they could call me.”
Kilchrist laughed, then turned back toward me.
“And that’s what I am. The ‘Peanut Man.’”
Vic Kilchrist has been Acadiana’s Peanut Man, and an institution at UL Lafayette sporting events, for over 30 years. Now, he did get a rather late start on this career, but Kilchrist is proof that it’s never too late to have a dream and to make that dream come true.
“I was 60-something years old, it was the early 1980s, and it just came down to the fact that I didn’t like the peanuts you got in the sealed bags at concession stands,” says
Kilchrist simply. “Nothing’s better than fresh, so I decided to go out and find a roaster.”
A roaster. After 12 years in the Navy (he was a flight deck chief on a small carrier) and a long career after that as a salesman for both Halliburton and
Frank’s Casing, Vic Kilchrist decided he wanted to roast peanuts. For a living. Maybe. “I didn’t know anything about doing this,” he laughs, “but I knew I wanted to roast peanuts.”
So he searched and he searched and he searched, and finally, from a guy at a
Morgan City junkyard, he got the call that would change his life. “Actually, I had no idea it would lead to all this,” he says. “No, no. The call was just an old man saying that there was a machine that used to do coffee, so I went and looked at
it and I got it for $87.”
For six months, Kilchrist worked on that coffee roaster, a piece of high-quality equipment (made by the A. J. Deer Royal Company of Hornell, N.Y. over 100 years ago) that’s still going strong. “Oh, yeah, that one’s at the girls’ softball park. Best darn $87 I ever spent,” he says.
His initial peanut-selling efforts took place at festivals and events in downtown
Lafayette, but it didn’t take long for Kilchrist to set up shop at Tigue Moore Field.
You see, there was something special about baseball. “When I was in the Navy,
I was stationed in Boston and became a big Red Sox fan, a big Ted Williams fan.” And now? “I don’t follow anyone in particular; I just listen to the baseball games. I still love the games.”
Kilchrist now owns three A. J. Deer Royal coffee-turned-peanut roasters, although the second and third ones weren’t $87 bargains. “Those were about $5,000 each, but they also do excellent jobs roasting peanuts. One stays at baseball, one stays at softball and one stays at my home and goes to other events,” says Kilchrist. And those 100-year-old-plus machines get the job done... at UL baseball, softball, basketball, football, Festival International and many more events.
“It’s no secret,” explains Kilchrist as he gestures toward his roaster. “I turn it on, I got a fire on the bottom of it and that’s it. You know the flame can go this way and that way, but if you have a good heater, the fire will always be the same when you turn it.” Which means? “Get the fire that you want, then leave it alone, and then you get the peanuts that you want.” That fire is a 300-degrees one for the first batch or so, and by game’s end, the roaster’s temperature gauge moves up to 450 or 500 degrees.
Kilchrist is ably assisted by his nephew Darren Navarre who’s been with him since the early 2000s. “He’s my partner, not my employee,” says Vic. Together, they go through 20-to-30 sacks of raw peanuts during the baseball season alone and trust me, uncle and nephew have it down to a science. “Those sacks weigh 50 pounds each,” explains Darren. “And each sack costs about $55. We get 156 bags of roasted peanuts out of each sack, which we sell for $4 a bag.” Darren does the heavy lifting and loads the roaster with peanuts, but don’t think Vic is resting on his laurels: At the same time, he’s opening up 800-900 brown paper bags that in just minutes will be filled by Kilchrist and his scooper.
“He was my grandmother’s brother, so he’s actually my great-uncle,” says Navarre, “and it’s amazing to watch him do this, watch him still at it and still visiting with customers. When I was growing up, it was so cool to have him around and we were all just fascinated by the machine itself. An old coffee roaster, still in use, and probably three-quarters of it is still the original parts. That roaster and my great-uncle are still rolling.”
Now, there was a stretch in which the relationship between UL and Kilchrist had hit a bump in the road. A new (now former) caterer took over concessions, wanted to do things differently and so Kilchrist and his trusty roaster were out, but for just one season. To the rescue came one of Kilchrist’s biggest fans: Ragin’ Cajuns baseball coach Tony Robichaux. “Robichaux said, ‘Nope, that ain’t ever gonna’ happen again. He’s a part of us,’” recalls Navarre. “And Robichaux got him back.”
Tony Robichaux, if you don’t know, is a straight-shooter, a fiercely loyal man and Kilchrist admires those traits. “To me, he’s (Robichaux) a real nice guy and he’s truthful,” says Kilchrist. “He don’t deviate from the truth in anything that he does. And I like that.”
Robichaux is taking his support of Kilchrist and his roasted peanuts to another level, and has made sure our favorite peanut roaster will still have his own spot when the $10-million renovations to the ballpark are completed in 2016-17. “Robichaux wanted to make sure we got a spot in the new building,” adds Navarre. “They came, they measured the machine and wherever it’s gonna’ be, we’ll have our own room. So this (current Tuff Shed) building is going away, but we’re gonna’ be in the new stadium. “
You don’t keep things going without a bit of luck - a bit of help - and for some of that, Kilchrist credits his Naval career for laying a foundation and providing a bit of guidance for how to do things the right way. “That’s what you gotta have: Organization and discipline, both. And you have to run them parallel. They can’t be hittin’ each other.”
Vic Kilchrist’s plan is to keep selling peanuts at least until he’s 100. At some point, he says, Darren and other family members will completely take over and when that happens, you can be sure that the buzzword for their roasted peanuts will still be.... fresh.
“I love peanuts,” says Vic the Peanut Man. “You can’t buy peanuts on the shelf, you just can’t. It’s got to be fresh, and there are no fresh peanuts on the shelf. But we’ve got ‘em right here.”
“On December the fourth of this year, I’m gonna’ be 95.”
I was stunned. Even though I knew he was in his 90s, I was stunned. Vic is sharp, he is upright, he is active, he’s engaged....he is anything but a ceremonial figurehead that his nephew trots out to make public appearances. Vic Kilchrist is a vibrant peanut roaster whose level of activity belies his age.
Still, I had to ask the question. “Vic, some would say at the ripe old age of 95, you’ve served your time. You should be doing anything but selling peanuts. Resting, relaxing, sitting in your chair, but not selling peanuts.”
Vic grunted a sharp “Hrrumph”, and looked me in the eye. “I do everything at my house, my yard, garden and all that. I’ve got all kinds of flowers, too. I cut my own grass. So, what’s a few bags of peanuts?”
And after that one came the question I’d been aching to toss at Vic since the day I first did at TV interview with him in the early 1990s. “So, Vic, are you getting rich off of this? Or....” Dramatic pause for a bad pun....”Are you working for peanuts?”
Vic Kilchrist paused, looked down at his bags of roasted peanuts, then looked back at me and chuckled.
“I’m just working for peanuts. But that’s OK. ‘Cause they’re fresh.”