A pecan paradise: Stephanie Stuckey reinvents the future of her grandfather’s roadside oasis
Stuckey’s sloping turquoise roofs and signs announcing their pecan log rolls were heartwarming sights during the road travel boom of the 1950s and 1960s. Tired travelers could indulge themselves and stretch their legs in this nutty paradise. pecans, which were almost always conveniently located near a freeway exit.
The company was founded in 1937 in Eastman, Georgia, by William Sylvester “WS” Stuckey. He borrowed $ 35 from his grandmother and, along with his wife Ethel, developed the secret recipe for their flagship product, the Pecan Log Roll. With ingredients sourced from the region’s pecan and peanut farms, the typically southern treat consists of nougat wrapped in caramel and pecans; it was handcrafted until the company opened a dedicated candy factory in 1948.
Stuckey’s business flourished, in part due to the development of the interstate highway system (the Eisenhower administration oversaw the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1956), and he opened more than 300 locations from Connecticut to Oregon. . Roadside shops became as common and visible along American highways as Howard Johnson’s or McDonald’s, later adding gas pumps and Texaco memorabilia to their offerings.
The company was sold in 1964 and went through various hands and iterations over the following decades, almost falling into obscurity. In the 1970s, the oil embargo and the fall in the price of air transport led to more store closings. It wasn’t the end of the mark, however. In November 2019, William’s granddaughter, Ethel “Stephanie” Stuckey, took over the family business and its legacy, inextricably linked to road travel.
“We were founded during the Great Depression – many companies were founded during tough economic times because it forges innovation,” Stuckey tells me from an Atlanta coffee shop eight months after the start of the COVID pandemic- 19. “I have often thought: ‘What if [the company] had been in the hands of my family during this period in the late 1970s? What if we could have reinvented ourselves then? What would the business look like today? ‘ “
Billboards and brochures
Stuckey says his family’s business has played a big part in promoting his love of travel. She recalls visiting franchise stores on road trips throughout her childhood, even after the business was no longer in their hands. “We would stop by and quite frequently these were some of the franchisees my father still knew because he had worked at the company when he was young,” says Stuckey.
It was during these trips that Stuckey developed a love for quirky roadside stops, which she discovered through notice boards and brochures installed inside stores. “These are the places I want, the places that don’t necessarily appear in the guides,” she says. “Places that others have to tell you by word of mouth; the dive bars and restaurants you would drive by if you didn’t know they served the best quesadillas in the world. This is what America is for by the side of the road.
One of those locations was a (now defunct) Western theme park in Silver Springs, Florida with mock gun fights and replica locomotives. Stuckey says the family went south with “no agenda or itinerary, other than we were going to stop at every kitschy attraction we saw.” They went to Disney World, but “Six Gun Territory was our favorite,” she says.
A fresh look
Stuckey’s now has 67 locations in total, most of which are located in the Southeastern United States. The majority are “Express” locations in gas stations, which offer the famous Stuckey’s branded pecan log rolls under the umbrella of an existing chain. Of the 20 remaining freestanding brick-and-mortar stores, very few locations still feature the classic roadside architecture the brand was known for; finding one is “like finding a rare bird,” Stuckey says.
In small towns across the country, Stuckey’s stores often reflect the communities they serve. “If you stop by Stuckey’s in Baghdad, Florida, you know you’re in Florida,” Stuckey says. “There would be rubber alligator memorabilia and maybe some fresh oranges sold up front, and lots of seashells and seashell carvings.”
Stores are taking people back to simpler times, Stuckey says, although she admits times have changed since her grandfather spent the first $ 35. “Stuckey’s really evokes that warm feeling of being on the road,” she says. “My challenge is how do I tap into that feeling while having a new perspective on the brand? ”
Stuckey has tried to both reinvent and reintroduce the brand to a new generation of travelers, in part by selling vintage-inspired products such as neon clocks and ‘drinking bird’ toys. The company’s blog highlights roadside attractions like Weeki Wachee Springs in Florida and the world’s largest pecan in Seguin, Texas. She even collaborated with an Atlanta brewery, Wild Heaven, for Stuckey’s Pecan Log Roll Beer. Stuckey has also become something of a historian, delving into her family’s archives and posting black-and-white photos on Instagram. Artifacts from the company’s history are featured in its Atlanta Airbnb, where guests receive free pecan log rolls.
Weird and wonderful places
After taking the reins, Stuckey planned to visit all of the company’s sites, but the pandemic made things difficult. She has three more to see, but says her focus on domestic travel has allowed her to promote interesting places near stores as well. “If you stop by Stuckey’s in Perry, GA, I want you to also go to Rose Hill Cemetery to see where the Allman brothers are buried or to the Big House Museum, where they recorded many of their early songs. ” she says.
The pandemic has certainly changed the way people travel, but Stuckey says she’s also seeing increased interest in the weird and wonderful places she loves. And as you go exploring, look for Stuckey’s sloping roof – it just might be the gateway to something unusual and wonderful.