Chances are if you’ve ever been to a baseball game in the Tampa Bay area, you’ve heard stadium vendors shouting that familiar cry: “Peanuts, get your peanuts here!”
And if while visiting local venues such as in Dunedin or , you happened to purchase a bag of roasted or boiled peanuts, you might be surprised to learn those salty snacks came from a supplier right in your own backyard.
has been operating in an industrial park off Alternate U.S. 19 since 2005, and the company’s roots in the area date back to 1978, when founder Mickey Freymuller began selling his wares out of a truck at the Oldsmar flea market.
“I built a lot of relationships with people over the years and made my mark with personal service to my customers that can’t be beat. They liked that, and it’s been working for me ever since.” — Mickey Freymuller
Today, the company is one of the largest of its kind in the country, cranking out 40,000 pounds of peanuts every week and supplying roughly 75 professional and college sports teams, including the Florida State Seminoles, the Atlanta Braves, the St. Louis Rams and the hometown Tampa Bay Lightning and Rays.
“We’ve been the sole provider (of peanuts) for the Rays since their inception, and we’re the only vendor still with the team that’s been a sponsor since Day One,” Mickey’s son and company operations manager Ryan Freymuller says proudly.
“We have a number of points of sale in the stadium, and they buy every item we have," he said. "They’re our biggest client by far.”
Despite its name, Mickey’s isn’t limited to just peanuts; due to the downturn in the economy and dramatic increases in peanut prices, the Freymullers have had to diversify their business in order to remain profitable.
“Boiled peanuts are our staple, the product we sell most consistently, and roasted peanuts do really well for us in the beginning of the year, around the start of baseball season,” Freymuller says.
“But we also sell cotton candy to retail stores like Sam’s Club, candy almonds, cashews and pecans, beef jerky and potato chips to places like Dollar General and little mom and pop shops,” he says.
“The small mom and pops, like up the street, are our bread and butter," he says. "They’re consistently our best customers, and have been ever since we started in the business.”
From the Flea Market to the Field House
The road from flea market favorite to ballpark snack titan has been a long and storied one for Mickey Freymuller, an Iowa native and Vietnam veteran who earned two purple hearts and once dreamed of becoming a lawyer before he “fell into” the peanut business.
“I was planning to go to law school in Arizona, but after I moved out there I said ‘to heck with this place’ and moved back here,” the charismatic company founder says.
“I built a lot of relationships with people over the years and made my mark with personal service to my customers that can’t be beat," he says. "They liked that, and it’s been working for me ever since.”
Father and son both recall road trips to various clients to deliver product on emergency notice, like the time Mickey drove up to Charlotte, N.C., to help out the Charlotte Hornets owner, and when Ryan drove all night to Alabama to restock both the Alabama Crimson Tide’s and Auburn Tigers’ supply.
"These are time-sensitive events we deal with,” Mickey says. “If we let one event go without product, we’re done.”
Surviving a Salty Economy
So far, the Freymullers have weathered the recession and the rising cost of peanuts, but time will tell how long they will remain in business and how many teams and stadiums they will be supplying in the future.
“In our heyday, we were in 120 venues throughout the country. We did the Super Bowl five straight years, and we had every spring training site in the state,” Ryan recalls. “But prices have gone through the roof in the last three to six months due to droughts in the Southwest and fewer farms producing the crops everywhere else.”
Still, Ryan is confident the family will remain a player in the peanut business for many years to come, and hopes the company will be able to relocate to a larger facility in the future.
“We’re reasonable people to deal with, and we offer excellent customer service. If we have to crank the machine up and hand deliver the product in the middle of the night, we will,” he says.
“You gotta remember, it’s just peanuts. If you’re not doing large volume, you’re dead.”