#073 – Mike Kelly: Knowing When to Pivot & Embracing the Right Opportunities

  • July 31, 2018
Mike Kelly Profile Photo

Mike Kelly

Mike Kelly is the creator of Papa Bear’s Nut Butter (and the titular Papa Bear). He started the business for a simple reason: he loves nut butter! It’s something for the healthy people out there who appreciate life’s indulgences.

But here’s a funny little thing about this conversation – just days after our interview, some big changes happened in Mike’s life and business: Papa Bear’s is actually dissolving! Mike is partnering with up with two other people to start a new food brand focusing on a more diverse (but similarly healthy) product line.

I wasn’t afraid of losing money… I was more afraid of saying I never tried” –Mike Kelly

While we do talk a lot about Papa Bear’s products in this conversation, the main focus is really product development, entrepreneurship, and online sales – and, critically, knowing when to pivot. So you can think of this episode as a time capsule of the moment right before a Mike’s big pivot, containing all of the insight and information he’ll take from years of Papa Bear’s and apply to his new endeavor.

One last thing – I first met Mike a few weeks ago at a General Assembly Food & Technology event in Santa Monica. These awesome adult education centers are scattered around the country and if you have an opportunity, I highly suggest checking out their incredible events. You never know who you’ll meet!

“To not taking ourselves so fucking serious all the time.” –Mike Kelly

We also discuss:

  • Transitioning from farmer’s markets to Amazon
  • Meeting at General Assembly
  • Testing products + flavors
  • Why they changed from Papa Bear’s Kinda Healthy Nut Butters to Papa Bear’s Nut Roasters
  • The secret trick to getting all of the butter out of a jar
  • Creating Churro Butter (and getting emotionally attached to it)
  • Scaling up a food product business when you make the food by hand
  • Your food is only as good as your ingredients
  • Personifying Papa Bear
  • Demolition Man, Taco Bell, and Amazon
  • Marketing a product on Amazon
  • Mike’s nuts being organic
  • How Mike chose the name Papa Bear
  • Advice from an entrepreneur who’s made a lot of mistakes
  • Mike Kelly has touched every single jar of Papa Bear’s, in one way or another – Wow!

Mike’s Game-Changing PB&J Recipe:



  • Put 2 slices of Dave’s Killer Bread in the broiler until they are toasted to your preference
  • Put peanut butter on the toasted side of one slice & jelly on the toasted side of the other slice
  • Put banana on the the side with peanut butter
  • Combine the slices into a sandwich and you have a sandwich that’s soft on the outside and crunchy on the inside!


Mike Kelly’s Bio:

Mike ‘Papa Bear’ Kelly grew up in a small Jersey Shore town. As a College Football Player at the University at Albany, Mike consistently turned to various nut butters for a quick, healthy, protein packed snack. Post college, Mike moved to California where he started producing nut butters out of his home kitchen in Santa Monica using different nut combinations and a unique roasting process. Rather than adding additional sweeteners and sugars Mike chose to change the method in which nut butter is traditionally produced to create a unique product packed with flavor that doesn’t kill you nutritionally. Check out the full line at iLovePapaBear.com or on Amazon!

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