To coincide with the release of Season 4 of “Arrested Development” on May 26, the Bluth’s Original Frozen Banana Stand is popping up in locations around New York and London. But these frozen bananas aren’t being hand-dipped by George-Michael. They’re made by Chuck Pheterson, the founder and president of Florida-based Totally Bananas, a man who hadn’t watched a single episode of the show when he started the company in 2009 and didn’t even realize his frozen bananas were the frozen bananas being handed out to “Arrested Development” fans this week – until I e-mailed him to set up the following interview.
How did you get involved with the Netflix plan to offer frozen bananas at the replica Bluth’s Frozen Banana Stand?
We sell through distribution channels, so for the most part, we don’t know where our product ends up. We started sending our product out last week, and another order this week for a total of about 14,000 bananas. We knew it was Netflix, but we didn’t really know what this was all about.
Wait. So you didn’t know this was for the Bluth Booth?
When I got your e-mail, we looked at it and said, holy moly! That’s when I found out. I thought this was a Netflix party.
That would be quite the party.
We have companies that buy thousands of bananas.
So this wasn’t an unusual order for you guys.
That’s mostly what we do. We supply all the Niagara Falls concessions on the Canadian side. We have products at CVS, at Shell stations throughout the state of Florida. Major zoos like the Bronx Zoo or the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans order from us. For me, this was just another order that I thought was for a company party.
In our e-mail exchange, you said your phone was ringing off the hook. Do you now think it was related to Netflix and you didn’t realize it?
Now, yeah. When we found out, we started sending out the notes to our customers. So now we’re starting to hear back from a lot of folks.
Why did you start making frozen bananas?
In 2009, I was a product manager for a company called Avocent, which made remote management systems for data centers. We were acquired by another company, and they didn’t want the division I was working in. So they shut it down at the worst part of the recession. When I left, I figured I’d do something high tech but I couldn’t come up with a product. One night my wife and I stopped off at an ice cream shop, and I saw they had these chocolate bananas. So we tried one of those. And I loved it!
One banana changed everything.
It did. It did.
Had you heard of the show?
Not at that point. I paid $7 for the banana, and I thought to myself, I could make these things in boatloads and sell them for half the price. I studied the market and there was no competition. So I decided, hey, I found my business! By the end of 2009 I had the first two products launched, the plain and the peanut. It was just my wife and myself hand-dipping the bananas, trying to prove the concept in the market. We just couldn’t deal with the amount of requests we were getting, so we expanded and brought on a partner who was named Kornbluth, interestingly enough.
That’s a bizarre coincidence.
I found that out afterwards when I started to hear about the show.
How many frozen bananas do you make a day?
About 2,500. But our goal is to make about 40,000 a day. We’re moving again in two weeks to get into a larger facility. And we got one more expansion planned that we’re in the funding stages for. With that move, we’ll be up to about 4,000 a day.
Are you still dipping them by hand?
But you essentially have a monopoly on the frozen banana business.
When it comes to a packaged product like what we have, yes.
Is it just too difficult for most companies to make them?
From having been in it, that’s my experience. It’s easy for these local ice cream shops to dip five, 10 bananas a day and sell them for a good profit. But trying to do thousands a day when every one of them is a different size, a different shape, different girth, different degree of ripeness. You need some real systems in place to start doing all that. For our next expansion plan, we have two patents that we filed for automation of this whole process. The goal there is that we can really begin to crank out our product.
So, do you watch “Arrested Development” now?
Oh, I’ve been watching the show. The famous line about the banana stand — “There’s always money in the banana stand” – that’s just hysterical.