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IN THE HOUSE where Lee Zalben grew up, three jars of peanut butter were stashed in the cupboard. Their labels read, "Mom," "Lee" and "Scott." That was because Mom, Lee, and Lee's brother, Scott, "were all notorious for dipping our fingers in the middle of the jar," Zalben said, so each had his or her own jar for midnight raids.
About nine months ago, Zalben, now 26 and still obsessed by peanut butter, opened the restaurant Peanut Butter & Co. in Greenwich Village. Peanut butter concoctions are served, and the company's homemade peanut butter, made of only nuts and salt, is available in jars, made fresh daily.
To go with the sandwiches, the restaurant features a milk bar: whole, skim, low-fat, organic, strawberry, malted, Lactaid (for the lactose intolerant) and more. There's also a peanut butter and jelly milk shake, not to mention a peanut butter sundae called "Death by Peanut Butter." Zalben is cashing in on the vogue for "personal nostalgia," as he puts it. And, he added, "People are tired of no-fat. They want to enjoy food." What could be more nostalgic than peanut butter? "Everyone grew up eating it," said Zalben. Eating peanut butter, he said, is "joyful" for the customers, "I can see it in their faces." Jon Togo, who has been a waiter for a few weeks, vouched for the fact that "people are happy. This is the happiest restaurant." Mac Gollehon, a trumpet player whose latest compact disc is "Smokin' Section," and Bill Ashton, who works at the nearby Blue Note jazz club, stopped in for a bite before they began work for the night and said that the cinnamon-raisin-peanut-butter sandwich and "The Elvis" sandwich with peanut butter, bananas and bacon reminded them of home and mom.