by Erin Hunninghake
ATCHISON — What started out as a delicious hobby has now turned into a prosperous business partnership between a monk of St. Benedict’s Abbey and students here at Benedictine College.
Benedict’s Brittle was the brainchild of abbey monk Brother Leven Harton, who decided to grow his own peanuts to make into peanut butter. After realizing it took almost his entire crop to make just one jar, he took a different route — peanut brittle.
“My mom showed me how to make it and, pretty soon, I was using the brittle to help fundraise for a mission trip that I was leading to El Salvador,” said Brother Leven.
The monk said the brittle was met with great enthusiasm, and he quickly began running out of it by Christmas. This gave him the idea that it could become something more than just a delicious hobby.
“I began to consider the possibility of it being lucrative for the monastery,” he said. “A confrère encouraged me, so I went for it.”
The abbey leadership gave Brother Leven clearance on the project, along with a little capital.
He and some fellow monks then advertised their brittle in the abbey’s Kansas Monks magazine, which contributed to a promising first year. The business has been growing ever since.
Students of Enactus, Benedictine College’s business club, took notice of this rapidly growing brittle business and jumped on the profitable prospect.
“We saw the opportunity to help the monks grow their business even further while being able to produce and keep up with demand,” said Caleb Jenkins, a sophomore at Benedictine double majoring in international business and finance.
Jenkins is currently the CEO and president of Benedict’s Brittle and co-owner of Raven’s Licensing Venture, LLC. Jenkins said the partnership licensing agreement has been wonderful for both parties.
“Having it this way helps us both keep the business running smooth and efficient,” he said.
According to Brother Leven, the main goal for this business was “to generate revenues for St. Benedict’s Abbey and Enactus by creating a quality, homemade product.”
For the students’ part, said Jenkins, “we saw the opportunity to help students gain incredible business experience by working within an actual company.”
Jenkins said the opportunity to run a real business as only a sophomore has been invaluable.
“It has been an incredible experience for me, and I’m learning things that I’d only learn by actually doing it rather than learning about it in a classroom,” he said.
While Brother Leven has turned over most of the business elements to the students of Enactus, he is still taking the lead on the product that started it all as the head cook. He is also the primary monastic liaison.
“The management is still being transferred to the Enactus team, so I still help out with some practical wisdom, while letting them make the decisions on the business side,” said the monk.
Benedict’s Brittle sells both locally in stores and online. And, of course, at the abbey.
“We are in Vintage Gypsy on 120 North Eighth Street and also in Gateway to Kansas on 504 Commercial Street,” said Jenkins. “Both of these stores have been a tremendous boost to our overall sales.”
Locally, customers can get their hands on the treat for only $20. A tin sells for $22 online at: kansasmonks.org/brittle. The price includes shipping.
Benedict’s Brittle has also introduced a new 12-ounce bag for $10 and a small six-ounce bag for $5. These smaller options can only be bought in downtown Atchison or in the abbey guesthouse.
Both Brother Leven and Jenkins said the response to Benedict’s Brittle has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Some are even emphatic that it is the best brittle they’ve ever had,” said Brother Leven.
“We have always had positive feedback about the brittle,” said Jenkins. “The most common feedback we received this year was that the brittle was consistently at the highest quality.”