The story of Stuckey’s is a real-life testament to the American Dream. Rural Georgia in 1937: an enterprising young law school-dropout-turned-farmer gets a $35 loan from his grandmother and sets out in his Model A Ford, scouring local farms to buy pecans which he would turn for a profit to a nearby nut shelling plant.
With his new connections to pecan suppliers, W.S. “Sylvester” Stuckey, Sr. tries his hand at retail — setting up a simple pecan shack along the side of the highway in Eastman, Georgia.
Turns out Stuckey Sr. was on to something: many tourists traveled that very route from the Northern States to vacation in Florida.
A pecan shack in Eastman made sense as a stop for weary drivers.
He soon figured these travelers wanted more — a cold drink, a clean restroom while they gas up their cars. That roadside shack soon turned into a blue-roofed roadside oasis in nearby Unadilla, Georgia, offering beverages, snacks and a soon-to-be famous nougat and pecan confection created by Stuckey’s wife Ethel: The Pecan Roll Log.
The appeal for Stuckey’s roadside retail brand grew over the years into a franchise sprawling over 368 stores in over 30 states, welcoming travelers with clean restrooms, gasoline, kitschy souvenirs and Stuckey’s pecan candies.
There was even a catchy jingle that once heard — cannot be unheard: “Make a Stuckey’s stop, make a Stuckey’s stop, Refresh, Refuel.”
Like any good narrative, this one has its story arc: Stuckey’s was soon bought out by a large corporation and with minimum oversight from its original founder, the quality of the brand started to go down. By the late 1970s the number of Stuckey’s standalone stores dwindled.
Enter the protagonist: Stephanie Stuckey, a third-generation Stuckey, a career politician and attorney. She had led Sustainability Programming for The City of Atlanta and went on to work for a nonprofit to continue her work in sustainability. Stuckey also served over a decade in the Georgia House of Representatives.
As her grandfather’s influence over Stuckey’s dissolved, Stephanie was disheartened to see what Stuckey’s had become and how far it had veered from her grandpa’s vision.
“It was our family legacy. It really broke my heart to drive by and see Stuckey’s stores that had turned into strip bars and poker lounges,” she remarks.
While Stuckey had not been groomed to take over the family business, she certainly had the skills and business acumen to lead the faltering brand in a new upward direction.
A couple of years ago, she was presented with the opportunity to purchase the remaining shares of Stuckey’s from shareholders.
Stuckey mulled over the financials and consulted with business experts.
“I asked them what they thought the company was worth; they said ‘not much – but the trademark is worth something’, which I appreciated because I knew the brand value.”
The opportunity to salvage the business her forefathers had worked to build was one that was too good to pass up.
With a sizeable amount of her life’s savings, she bought out the shares from her father’s business partners and became CEO of the company.
“I googled the word Stuckey’s, and the first thing I saw was people commenting ‘Whatever happened to Stuckey’s’ and ‘I wish there was a Stuckey’s’. I wanted to change Stuckey’s to ‘the comeback brand,’” she says.
In order to know one’s future — you need to know one’s past; that’s the adage that prompted Stephanie to exhume the boxes of her grandfather’s archives containing hundreds of firsthand accounts of the business, sepia-tinted photos glorifying the halcyon days in the ’50s and ’60s when the family business welcomed thousands of smartly dressed travelers piled up in a wood-paneled station wagon.
“I got a real appreciation for what made this company really special and discovered that my grandfather was friends with the founder of the Holiday Inn, the founder of The Waffle House, and Truett Cathy (the founder of Chick-fil-A). These entrepreneurs all knew each other!” she exclaimed.
Through her research, she learned how her grandfather was part of a now-forgotten history: The Great American Road Trip.
“He came to life for me, “explains Stephanie. “I got a real appreciation for how the company was run.”
Stuckey’s newfound love of vintage Americana helped shape her business model, paying homage to the first store’s humble roots.
“When I bought Stuckey’s a year ago, the first thing I did was change our logo. Its three-toned fluorescent gaudiness represented everything our brand had become under corporate watch – cheap and ordinary,” Stephanie shared in a social media post.
“I went back to my grandfather’s original logo from his store Unadilla, Georgia, in 1939. I love the elegance of the cursive old-school signature, paired with the temerity of the “T” blasting like a trumpet announcing, “Stop Here!” It represents what I’m trying to build at Stuckey’s: a retro, fun vibe with a scrappy “look at me” edginess.”
To further the company’s business plan, Stephanie and her partner purchased a candy factory in Wrens, Georgia, to take the over production and distribution of Stuckey’s candies and nuts.
These days, you can find Stephanie on the road taking to social media to post her admiration for all-things-Americana: vintage signs, gigantic roadside statues now facing extinction, and family-owned and operated businesses.
Along the way, she’ll make a Stuckey’s Stop.
She recently visited a newly opened Stuckey’s in Perry, the only standalone store in Georgia — owned by her mother and nephew.
Marveling over the nostalgic candy display filled with candy cigarettes, pop rocks, and novelty items, she couldn’t help but to think of her grandfather and his roadside pecan shack.
These moments give her the push to sharpen her vision: to continue to weave a new narrative for Stuckey’s - The Comeback Brand. To revive the classic road trip. And to elevate the pecan as “America’s Nut.”
It’s a story worth telling, and a story to be continued.
About the Author