The legend of the ‘Peanut Man’

Joe 'Peanut Man' Watson

The legend of the ‘Peanut Man’
February 07
18:49 2020

Joe ‘Peanut Man’ Watson shares how it all started

If you’re from Winston-Salem, you know there are some things that are just universally accepted and understood. For example, everybody knows not to mess with Ms. Esther and or her bike. Everybody knows WSSU’s Homecoming is a celebration for the entire city, not just alumni. And everybody knows the ‘Peanut Man.’

Webster’s defines ‘legend’ as: an extremely famous or notorious person. Although Joe ‘Peanut Man’ Watson says he doesn’t see himself as a legend, if you ask the people around the city who he has been delivering peanuts, Kool-Aid, and other treats to for over a decade, I’m sure they’ll say otherwise. “I don’t know if it’s a legend,” Watson laughed while standing inside the Peanut House last week, “but it began with my father in March of 1959.”

Last week Watson sat down with The Chronicle to discuss where the legend of the Peanut Man began and how he has been able to stay so consistent over the years.

Watson said with 25 pounds of peanuts and a dream, his father, the late R.T. Watson, started the original Peanut House in Philadelphia. Watson said after being turned down for jobs because he was black, his father made the decision that he was going to start a business that would take care of his children’s children and that’s exactly what he did. 

“Fast forward to 1959, my father took 25 pounds of peanuts to Philadelphia, Pa., and got a roaster,” Watson said. “A few years later he made his way back to North Carolina and the rest is history.”

After finding his footing in Winston-Salem, R.T. Watson originally opened his business selling peanuts at a shop on Patterson Avenue. Over the years the shop moved to Trade Street and then to 30th Street in their family home, before moving to the current location, 3100 N. Patterson Ave., in 1988. Although his father started him working in the family business at an early age, Watson said it wasn’t until he was older that he realized what his father was trying to instill in him. He said after receiving his degree from Shaw University and working, he decided to go back to what his father taught him. 

“Peanuts were in my earlier years, but it wasn’t until I was older that I learned what my father was telling me. My father tried to tell me early to focus on this, but I couldn’t see it because I didn’t understand,” Watson said. “I didn’t say daddy was wrong, but I’m thinking I’m in media, I got a degree in Radio/Television/Film. So I’m out working in advertising, looking at $500 checks here, $300 checks there, then I’m looking at a $1 bag of peanuts. 

“But what daddy knew then that I didn’t know was you give me $2 or $1, I give you your peanuts, we’re done. You commit $500 in advertisement, you waiting on other people to give you money. I didn’t understand that then. My ambition was to take off in media, just build a media empire, but life had a different calling. I’ve done good in media, but if somebody asks, ‘Joe Watson,’ they’re like, ‘Who?’ If you say ‘Peanut Man,’ they’re like, ‘Yeah, we know the Peanut Man.” 

After running WSSU’s radio station for over a decade and running his own radio station, in 2001 Watson started selling peanuts full time. He said although it was a grind at first, over the years he started to build relationships with businesses in the community and soon he became a household name, showing up with his vest filled with different types of peanuts and a cooler filled with some of the best Kool-Aid and lemonade you’ve ever tasted. 

“I started grinding, anybody who would let me show up I would show up,” Watson continued. “Those were some tough times. man, walking around with holes in my shoes, putting $4 worth of gas in my car to go make money. I mean, I did what I had to do.”

Despite the early struggles, with help from his wife of 33 years, Robin, and the dream that his father left him years ago, Watson was able send both his children to college debt-free. Watson said now that he’s known throughout the city, his customers have become more like family. 

“I spend my time running my mouth a little more than I should because now we’re family,” he said. “Part of being in the community is you grow up with people and it’s not about the money. You’re going to make the money, but it’s about, “Is your son, your daughter, OK?” I still have to go and make money, it’s still my job, but I look forward to this. I’m committed to this. I don’t want to ever get away from this because this is what got me to where I am.”

 Although he may be the face of the business because he’s usually the one making the rounds across the city, Watson said the operation is still very much a family-run business. He said his brother Tim handles the business decisions, and his sister Marian runs the restaurant on North Patterson Avenue and is the glue that holds everything together. 

When discussing the legend of the Peanut Man, Watson said, “The legend is really my father R.T. Watson. He is the legend – our family is just standing on his legacy.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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