Lunch gone nutty at P.B. Loco

Nicole Capozziello

According to one of the “Fun Facts!” on P.B. Loco Caf’s walls, which are painted the colors of peanut butter and jelly, a stunning 92 percent of Americans eat peanut butter on a regular basis.
I exercised this right Sunday when I found myself at P.B. Loco, located near the Macy’s side of the Fox River Mall, eating a rather unordinary peanut butter sandwich.
My sandwich, called the Veggie, consisted of warmed wheat bread with sun-dried tomato peanut butter, lettuce, cucumbers and cheddar cheese.
Prior to Sunday, I was unaware that such a peanut butter existed but, as I discovered, I was in the dark about the vast possibilities of peanut butter in general.
After locating P.B. Loco Caf in the strip mall by Qdoba, my friend and I walked in to what seemed to be a literal explosion of peanut butter. In addition to the symbolic wall colors, one wall is completely stocked with jars of P.B. Loco’s specialty peanut butter while enticing peanut butter posters decorate the other walls.
The employees immediately asked us if we had been to P.B. Loco before and offered us samples of their own specialty peanut butter. While the raspberry white chocolate is their signature flavor, P.B. Loco also has 11 other flavors of peanut butter, including sun-ripened apricot, Asian curry spice, cinnamon raisin, and, of course, sun-dried tomato.
The tantalizing taste-testing was my favorite part of visiting the restaurant, as when it came to order, I found it difficult to choose as well as more expensive than expected.
The signature sandwiches, which are served with animal crackers, are divided into three categories: sweet, savory and fruity.
The fruity category includes sandwiches such as the Peanut Colada (white chocolate peanut butter, pineapple, coconut and banana) while the sweet category offers slightly more sinful sandwiches such as the Loco Coco (dark chocolate peanut butter, raspberry jam and coconut).
My sandwich could be found on the savory menu, which, among other things, offers a PBBLT, composed of sun-dried tomato peanut butter, bacon, lettuce and cream cheese.
Each of the signature sandwiches is around $6, while classic sandwiches such as the old-fashioned PB & J are priced above $4.
While the sandwiches are made on slightly larger than average pieces of bread and are topped with quality peanut butter, I found the prices to be more of what I would expect at Panera Bread, which include meats and cheeses on specialty breads.
Though our sandwiches were tasty and unique, I didn’t feel P.B. Loco Caf warranted the $20 lunch bill – for the two of us – it turned out to be.
The menu also offers four types of fruity peanut butter smoothies, snacks such as peanut butter samplers with vegetables and fruit, and soup, which seemed to be the only menu item without peanut butter in it.
The caf also sells gift packages of their many flavors of peanut butter and T-shirts with the signature logo on it.
Starting in March, the restaurant will also be adding a children’s menu as well as a breakfast menu, including apple cinnamon peanut butter oatmeal and various peanut butter baked goods.
Appleton P.B. Loco owner Kelly Klesmit was attracted to the P.B. Loco franchise for this very creativity. In her former profession as an airline pilot, Klesmit found herself craving new versions of the convenient peanut butter and jelly sandwich she packed for trips.
She had heard of P.B. Loco peanut butter on the Food Network channel, and eager for something new, began ordering their different flavors of peanut butter.
Several months and jars of deliciously quirky peanut butter later, Klesmit remarked to her husband that she wished someone would open a P.B. Loco Caf in Appleton. Her husband responded, “Well, why not you?”
This conversation sparked Klesmit’s consideration of the prospect of a career change, as the airline she flew for had recently moved to Virginia, and led to her fill out a franchise application on the P.B. Loco website in May of 2005.
She flew out to Minneapolis to meet with the owners of P.B. Loco, three former attorneys who opened the first P.B. Loco Caf in the Mall of America in 2004.
Since then, five other P.B. Loco Cafs have sprung up throughout the U.S., including the Appleton restaurant on 4363 W. Wisconsin Ave., which opened Dec. 2, 2006.
Of her career change, Klesmit said, “I found owning a franchise a lot like flying an airplane. There was a formula I could plug things into it and that worked for me.”
The Appleton P.B. Loco Caf is unique in the fact that it is the only one not located inside a mall, giving it the privilege of setting its own hours and attracting the interest of mall shoppers and curious people looking for a quick meal alike.
Though the P.B. Loco Corporation has expanded quickly, Klesmit maintains that the owners are picky of the kind of people they hire, as they want them to embody the trendy and friendly attitude of P.B. Loco.
Klesmit feels her personal passion for P.B. Loco’s products before buying into the franchise has been a good thing. Before even opening, Klesmit made sure that P.B. Loco’s name was known for its extensive community outreach, which most recently included a youth summit in the area.
In my recent experience with P.B. Loco, I have come to really like the friendly and personal precedent P.B. Loco seems to be setting as a new franchise.
Despite the high prices, P.B. Loco’s sandwiches and, at the very least its peanut butter, are worth a try next time you find yourself dizzily escaping from confines of the Fox River Mall.