(Featured photo: From left Sativa Sturkey and Stephanie Stuckey stand with a new industrial mixer. New equipment is helping increase output of confections produced at the Wrens’ plant. Charmain Z Brackett/Augusta Good News)
WRENS, Ga. — The Stuckey’s signs called to Van Mills as he traveled through Wrens July 21, stirring up memories of road trips from his youth. He ventured inside 707 S. Main St. to find a longtime favorite – the pecan log roll.
“I’m taking this back to my wife. Like a whole generation of folks, when you go on vacation, you’d always stop at the Stuckey’s,” he said, recalling the good memories associated with the brand.
Not only did he buy a few of the confections still made from the original recipes, he had a chance to meet one of its owners at his recent stop.
Stephanie Stuckey, whose grandfather founded the company in Eastman, Ga. in 1937, said she always asks people where they are from when they visit the store. She greeted Mills and posed that question to find out he is from Appling County, Ga. not far from where it all started.
She reached out to shake his hand.
“I’m Stephanie Stuckey. I’m the granddaughter of the founder. I’m from Eastman,” said Stuckey, clad in jeans and wearing a t-shirt and a baseball cap, both bearing the company name.
Stuckey gave Mills a brief history of the company and how she came to own it after it being out of the family’s hands for several decades. Her grandfather built the company but sold it the year before Stuckey was born.
“Unfortunately, that plant (in Eastman) was long shuttered and is in disrepair. The original store we don’t own it, and it’s also in bad shape. This was for sale, and we bought it. This is now Stuckey’s headquarters,” she said of the Wrens plant and gift shop.
“So, this was one of the stores?” Mills asked of the gift shop.
“Across the street was one of the stores, but we don’t own it,” she said. “I think it’s good karma. It’s a sign that we were meant to be here. This plant was originally owned and founded by a man named Royce Atwell. It was called Atwell Pecans, and he did business with Sylvester Stuckey, my grandfather. It’s kind of nice. We’re making our classic candies here.”
Before Mills headed toward the checkout, he predicted the signs that drew him into the parking lot would bring other families who grew up on pecan log rolls and divinity when packing up the station wagon for summer vacations. He said they’d tell their grandchildren and children about their memories as they walked through its doors.
Stuckey, whose company’s motto is “Every traveler is a friend,” smiled at Mills as he delivered his words about his visit. They are evidence that her plan to revitalize her family’s namesake company is working.
Stuckey’s moved into the Wrens in 2021, but it was still during the pandemic and bringing in foot traffic to the store wasn’t the main priority. It’s only been in recent months that she’s made a push to add signage and increase customers in Wrens.
“The signs have made a huge difference,” she said.
Stuckey spends a lot of time on the road and has a large presence on social media highlighting a few of her passions – Americana and her company. The nostalgia related to the brand has elevated it and brought it to a new generation.
Her travels often take her to trade shows and speaking engagements. She was in Wrens July 21 after a California meeting with members of the National Confectioner’s Association where she serves on the board of directors. The association is made up of companies such as Mars, Bazooka Candy Brands, Spangler Candy Co. and others.
“I’m the only Georgia company in the room, and there are not many Southern companies,” she said. “There are not many female CEOs.”
Stuckey usually spends at one or two days in Wrens each week. On July 21, she mingled with customers with ease, smiling as she soaked in their good memories of days gone by and got their feedback all while sharing her own family history with them.
Another visitor brought with him a framed photograph of the original Wrens’ Stuckey’s. Hugh Fleming, 88, remembers the original store as well as the Atwells who started the pecan company.
“Mrs. Atwell would peel pecans by hand,” he said. “And she would sell pecans in a little service station when (U.S. Highway) No.1 was the main road from New England to Florida.”
When not talking with customers, Stuckey toured the physical space, which has been undergoing some renovations including new flooring in one of the larger warehouses. New equipment has recently arrived to help with Stuckey’s vision of doubling its capacity.
After chatting Fleming and Mills and several other customers, she passed through the doors from the gift shop, where she stopped to talk with one of the supervisors.
“Hey, there. Congratulations. I heard yesterday was a very good day,” Stuckey said in greeting Sativa Sturkey.
“It was a great day. They kicked tail yesterday,” Sturkey said of the employees who work to season and package pecans.
Stuckey handed Sturkey a gift card, thanking her. Stuckey asked for the names of outstandng team members so she could give them something on her next visit to Wrens. Sturkey said they all work together as a unit. So Stuckey asked for all their names instead.
Their achievement was to log a recording-breaking day, Sturkey explained.
A year ago, a normal day would’ve been to produce eight bags of pecans, Sturkey said, but on July 20, they produced 15 bags in a time-consuming gprocess that involves multiple steps including tumbling pecans, adding the seasonings, baking them a couple of times, tossing them until cooled and shaking them to remove any excess sugar or spice before packaging them.
Stuckey said pecan production is where the company “excels.” Not only does Stuckey’s sell pecan products through retail outlets, the company makes pecan treats for other companies to sell under their brands.
Besides giving Stuckey an update on her team, Sturkey brought Stuckey up to speed on some of the new equipment that had arrived including a new dishwasher and a new super mixer, which will be used to make nougat fillings for many Stuckey’s treats.
Sturkey estimated the possibility of quadrupling their output using the new mixing machine.
“I can’t wait to use this,” she said.
The addition of machinery also means another Stuckey’s favorite — divinity — could be one day produced again. It’s not being made currently because that treat creates a strain on production, Stuckey said.
Anticipated new growth comes on the heels of other rapid growth.
“We’ve doubled capacity already. We’ve added new tumblers and fire mixers,” she said.
Larger ovens are also on the way.
“Things are happening here in Wrens, Georgia,” she said.
And Stuckey has only just started. She has more plans in the works, but they are under wraps for now. Stuckey is pleased with the progress thus far and looks forward to fulfilling her goals related to the family business.
Stuckey said that when she was growing up and even into her adult years she’d never imagined working in the business bearing her family’s name, but she likes to think her grandfather would be proud of what she’s done.
“I feel like I’m completing a circle started by my grandfather,” she said.
Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at email@example.com. Sign up for the newsletter here.
Support local journalism: Local stories on local people, organizations and events. That’s the focus of Augusta Good News. An independent voice in Augusta, Ga., Augusta Good News is not funded by a billionaire or a large corporation; it doesn’t have celebrity reporters who have agents. It’s local people who are invested in the community and want to tell its stories. You can support local journalism and help us expand our coverage by becoming a supporter. Through Ko-Fi, you can give once or set up a monthly gift. Click here to learn more. Thank you!