UK alumna is on a roll with success in almond butter business


Dawn Kelley Barney Butter.jpg

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. For one UK alumna, her health food expertise and business savvy won her over a husband and a business.

Dawn Kelley, a UK political science graduate, has been adding on to her success one almond at a time. Since 2011, she has been the president and CEO of Barney Butter, a California-based almond butter company. Kelley has helped the business grow from an unknown name to the third largest almond butter on the market in the country.

So just how did a born and raised Lexingtonian end up with an almond butter company in California? Kelley’s story is a classic case of hard work paying off.

As a political science major, Kelley followed what she thought was her dream to a law firm in Atlanta. After discovering that field wasn’t for her, Kelley embarked on an employment journey that took her from Atlanta to Chicago to California and from consultant to vice president to president. Though her career history didn’t exactly follow her degree, she did not regret the decision in college. In fact, Kelley is grateful to both UK and her major for exposing her to such diverse experiences.

“Your major doesn’t necessarily define you,” Kelley said. “It’s a time, I think, to embrace the opportunities in front of you to see what you get passionate about, see the classes that light you up a little bit and draw you in, what kind of turns you off. And take the opportunity for as much diversity or different experiences and variety, and having an open mind is really important.”

And embracing opportunities is exactly what Kelley did when she met her husband-to-be, Steve Kelley. The two were set up by a mutual friend when Steve revealed to Dawn that he had recently invested in a small almond butter company. Dawn, having extensive knowledge of business management due to her previous jobs and a know-how for almond butter due to her passion for food, managed to wow Steve as a potential business partner and wife.

“It was just a natural fit for me in terms of diet and lifestyle,” said Dawn.

Within a few months of their meeting, the pair bought out Barney Butter and flipped the company on its head. While Steve, the COO to Dawn’s CEO, specialized in the operation ends of the business, Dawn was the creative innovator. With the same purpose but different branding, the Kelleys turned the company into a commercial success. And Steve is not shy about giving his wife her due credit.

“When I first met her I called my partner and I said, ‘I think we just had another lightning strike. I don’t know whether I want to marry her or hire her,’” Steve said. “And so it ended up working out for me… a twofer, I got both. I got a wife and a business partner who was way more capable of building this brand and growing this business than I was, so we were a pretty good team.”

For those looking for an alternative to peanut butter or just a healthy spread, Barney Butter is a product worth looking into. It is peanut free, all-natural, non-GMO, kosher and vegan certified. Every jar of Barney Butter is made with locally-grown California almonds that get blanched, a process that makes Barney Butter unique to other almond butter brands. Thanks to blanching, this almond butter is no-stir, rivaling the consistency and taste of peanut butter without the guilt. The Kelleys are sure that the company’s mantra, “leaving things better than we found them,” will continue on with every product sold.

Barney Butter products, including almond butter, almond flour, almond meal and more, can be found close to UK’s campus at the Kroger on Euclid Avenue.