“The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.” Sugar-plums! Does anyone really know what a sugar-plum is?
My opinion, chocolate is where it’s at. Personally, I think more people want to dream about chocolate than sugar-plums. Side note, worldwide the chocolate industry is worth $100 billion – $130 billion per year.
As a child my grandparents did take my sister and I to a chocolate factory (no names mentioned – but it is a big one). It was soooo disappointing. You see the main factory had just closed to visitors and there was an animated ride in its place. You sat in a car, moved along a track and saw all kinds of fake chocolate being made. To make it worse the chocolate smell was piped in. “No Bueno.”
Finally, 50 plus years later I did get to see a chocolate factory. WTFCF visited Stuckey’s manufacturing facility in Wrens, GA Nov. 16.
The original Stuckey’s was started by Grandma Ethel & Grandpa W.S. Stuckey as a roadside stand in 1937. Like many people today, they had to supplement their income (funny how things don’t really change). Fun fact: They were actually called Big Mama & Big Daddy.
Big Daddy ran the stand and Big Mama made all — yes all — the candy, starting with Pecan Pralines and later their famous Pecan Logs. Honestly, I can’t even imagine how she did this without the help of any type of automated equipment. I would so love to travel back in time and check it out.
The roadside stand operated for one full year, but due to circumstances had to close. Don’t fret, the good news is the first Stuckey’s store was born. CEO Stephanie Stuckey, who you will meet later, compared the original store to a modern gas station. Stuckey’s had gas, food, bathrooms, and naturally the famous Stuckey’s candies. Move over 7 Eleven, sounds like the original convenience store to me.
What is even more amazing is Stuckey’s had a dog park. I don’t know about you, but I thought this was a relatively new concept.
As you would imagine the first thing you notice when you walk through the doors of the store is the smell. My challenge to you is; try to describe how chocolate smells. Did you try?
It’s almost impossible and here is the reason. High quality chocolate has many layers to it. Pretend you are carefully shaving away those layers (which is exactly what I’m doing in the video you see here). You may smell the freshness of milk, the creaminess of caramel, the smell of roasted nuts, or maybe even fruit. Put all of this in one room and your sense of smell goes totally berserk! I know ours did.
Let’s Meet Stephanie Stuckey
Chip has had many interviews with so many people. But, in my opinion, Stephanie gave one of the best and I told her so. She is so animated while being incredibly sincere.
Stephanie beamed when she spoke about Big Mama & Big Daddy, their history, and the history of Stuckey’s. She celebrates “small town America” and is proud to say all their products are made in America – Stuckey’s pecans are grown in Georgia and the packaging is manufactured in North Carolina.
Remember the pecan pralines, the famous pecan log rolls, bags of pecans, and all the other wonderful pecan candy? Glad you do. True to her heritage Stephanie emphatically said, “We are not a candy company, but a pecan company.” She talked about her background and why she is reviving and reinventing the Stuckey’s stores. It really is a remarkable story.
Up Next A Tour Of The Store
[Though I really wanted to get to the chocolate factory]
Talk about nostalgia! There are displays after displays of all types of candies you may have enjoyed as a kid – that is if you were allowed to stop. Once again, “No Bueno.” Chip’s favorite candy as a kid was Big Bruiser Jaw Breakers. These jaw breakers are huge. It is amazing Chip has teeth left, or maybe his baby teeth took the brunt of it.
But what is really cool is the Stuckey’s name seen on billboards, products, candies and paraphernalia. Turns out it’s a not just a name, but a signature. We all have a signature. So, what makes this one so special? The signature belongs to Big Daddy. How cool is that? His signature can be seen all over the Stuckey’s stores and interstates! And it is legible to boot.
Finally, The Moment I Had Been Waiting For Has Arrived – Off To The Chocolate Factory We Go
One of the first things that amazed me was we did not have to travel to a different building. The candy factory was behind the store. No wonder the smell was so incredible when we first walked in.
Gloves, hair and beard nets, and booties were provided. We stuck out like a sore thumb. We had to wear orange hairnets to distinguish us from the employees. Plus, we had strict orders not to touch anything and I do mean strict orders. This was reinforced over and over again.
There was a woman walking around and keeping an eye on us like a hawk. Her job was to make sure we all stayed out of trouble — and the facility stayed uncontaminated. I am going to keep her name anonymous – I get the feeling she would prefer it that way. She was a bit intimating at first, but as it turns out she was amazing and knows everything there is about what goes on in the factory. I walked around with her and she answered all my questions and there were a lot of them. Me ask questions? – don’t be ridiculous (a favorite saying of my mom).
The first thing you notice when you enter the candy factory is how incredibly loud and how close together the candy making equipment is. It was hard to keep up with Stephanie, Chip and the rest of the crew. I followed them closely, but always managed to lose them.
As I looked around it was amazing to see no huge conveyer belts and automated equipment. All the candy was being made and packaged by hand. It was totally incredible.
My first stop – the table with Peanut Butter Meltaways. This was totally no fair. Peanut butter and chocolate are my favorite combination. Just look at how gingerly she is topping all that creamy peanut butter on the chocolate.
Oh, I wanted one so bad I almost felt like a dog beginning to salivate. Forget about being offered one, but at least I was told why. Reason 1: only the rejects can be eaten (I was told there weren’t any rejects yet – not totally sure I buy that) and the second more logical one – no candy sampling is allowed inside the factory to maintain the extremely clean environment (this one makes total sense). Once again Chip is the exception, or so I thought, and got to sample some of the chocolates. Totally no fair.
But to my satisfaction Chip did get yelled at by our escort later in the day. Through the whole shoot she had tolerated all his sampling she could. Finally when he had a taste of carmel corn during a scene — and with a furious look in her eye — she finally told him, “Look you are not suppose to eat anything in here!” [Chip’s defense: He says nobody told him that before we started filming. Hmmmm…]
Trying to keep up with Chip and the crew was still not happening. My fault really, because what caught my attention were these lovely little creations covered in white chocolate. I thought maybe I could sneak one, but again no such luck. These little darlings turned out to be White Chocolate Pecans. It was fascinating to watch how carefully each one was handled. What is even more incredible is how fast the women were packaging them.
I did catch up with the rest of the crew in the popcorn room. This is where things get a bit dicey. There was so much going on and the noise was deafening I am not sure I heard the answers to my questions correctly.
Like in S2,E7 Just Peachy, Stuckey’s had a large mixer – even larger than the one at Lane Farms. Except instead of making cinnamon bread, I was told they were making maple glaze or caramel coating for the popcorn. I am not sure which one because of all the noise.
Chip verified it’s caramel coating. He did manage a taste and by the look on his face it was awesome. Oh, by the way it is called Hunkey Dorey Popcorn and you can find it on Stuckey’s website.
In the corner of the popcorn room was an older man S.J. McDonald. Like the Stuckey’s signature there is something very special about S.J. He is the mechanic who has kept the equipment running for 55 years. Talk about loving your job. Chip and Chairman of the GA Pecan Association R.G. Lamar, the farmer-partner in the Stuckey’s corporation, had a brief conversation with S.J., again it was too loud to hear any of it.
At this point I was able to sneak out of the popcorn room back to where they were making the Peanut Butter Meltaways. Guess what? I hit pay dirt, there were finally rejects. I was given one Meltaway by R.G., but had to eat it in the breakroom. Unfortunately I ate it too fast and did not savior the creaminess of the peanut butter or how the chocolate dissolved in my mouth. Sigh.
To The Pecan Groves
The pecan groves are gorgeous. The rows of pecan trees are perfectly spaced apart. It was here Chip had a brief interview with R.G. You will hear more from R.G. in an upcoming episode.
Again it was very hard to hear. This time it wasn’t the candy making equipment, but a tree shaker. In a nutshell – see what I did with that – a tractor backs up to a tree and shakes the devil out of it using what appears to be two forks. The process itself lasts only a few seconds, but it looks like it is raining pecans and leaves. Well… actually it is.
The driver of this piece of equipment told me I could go in it and check it out. But, it looked like a small monster and a bit dangerous so I politely declined.
Stuckey’s is not the oldest candy factory in the United States. But it is the first one I visited, that actually worked, which makes it very special.
Finally, I had visions of chocolate dancing over my head.