Forget Buc-ee’s. Stuckey’s is still my roadside stop of choice.

Our restaurant critic Christiane Lauterbach looks back at ’70s road trips and how she rediscovered the Stuckey's pecan log roll

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Forget Buc-ee’s. Stuckey’s is still my roadside stop of choice.

In the mid-’70s, there were 368 Stuckey’s stores around the country.

Courtesy of Stuckey’s Corporation

The year I spent in New York City in the early ’70s taught me almost nothing about America. Entranced by a huge city that, like my own, offered constant stimulation, I functioned very much like a Parisian: pounding the pavement, looking at stuff I couldn’t afford and restaurants I dreamed of. I’d been seduced by the life of the West Village, but I eventually ditched the man who had brought me there and married another, who was on his way to Atlanta to study law.

Moving to a Southern city was an unexpected and profound culture shock. Bit by bit, I discovered my new country. Road trips with my young husband and, subsequently, with my friend Bill Cutler, who wrote a column for the iconic monthly Brown’s Guide to Georgia, opened up another world. Where I come from, we don’t have roadside attractions. We don’t snack constantly. Foodstuffs such as divinity fudge and pecans, the only nut indigenous to North America, are unheard of.

As both a candy addict and a new convert to road trips, I must have stopped at the original Stuckey’s along Highway 23 in Eastman, Georgia, the birthplace of their famous pecan log roll. I’d forgotten all about that squishy, sugary treat, coated in caramel and rolled in coarsely chopped pecans, until last year, when bright displays of Stuckey’s venerable snack products caught my eye, first at the Candler Park Market, then at my local Ace Hardware. What is going on there?, I remember thinking, until I learned about the connection between ex-lawyer, ex-politician Stephanie Stuckey, the daughter of five-time Georgia congressman W.S. “Billy” Stuckey Jr., and the revival of her iconic family business.

In the mid-’70s, there were 368 Stuckey’s stores all over the United States, selling gas, souvenirs, and old-fashioned candies. Founder and pecan entrepreneur Williamson Sylvester Stuckey, Stephanie’s grandfather, started his folksy empire in 1937 with a humble roadside stand. Eventually he acquired a pecan-processing plant and a candy factory. The business struck a chord as Americans traveled across the brand-new interstate system in the mid-20th century. In 1964, Stuckey sold the company to Pet Milk Co. to raise capital and expand operations. After Illinois Central Industries purchased Pet in 1977, the company began to close almost all Stuckey’s locations. Nowadays, the closest Stuckey’s stores are in Alabama and South Carolina.

Stephanie Stuckey, who represented DeKalb County in the Georgia House of Representatives for more than a decade, then directed the Office of Sustainability and Resilience for the City of Atlanta, calls herself “an unexpected CEO.” She didn’t think she would relinquish her role as an advocate for environmental causes. Yet it was foreordained: Her father’s business partners called to offer her their shares in the company, and, after watching her run the business for nearly a year, Dad sold his to her too. She’s been Stuckey’s CEO for four years now. Notably discreet about the finances of the privately owned company and her current partners, she told me that in three years, sales have grown by $10 million.

Today, Stephanie spreads the gospel of roadside revival. She and I agree that we could never give up on back-road traveling. We love the same America, one of small towns, “preferably with a coffee shop and a bookstore,” she tells me. One doesn’t have to crisscross the country anymore to find her pecan log rolls in their classic red-and-white striped wrappers. Sold at retailers including Hobby Lobby and, yes, Candler Park Market, they provide a pleasurable note of nostalgia and a wonderful-tasting candy. The pecan log roll has an interior consisting of fluffy nougat, a sturdy relative of divinity fudge and praline (“invented in France,” Stephanie tells me, but vastly different on this side of the Atlantic). It holds its shape, yet surrenders to the tooth. Truth be told, it is a little sweet to my palate, which loves Mike and Ike and Red Vines (my candies of choice), but the pecan is easily my favorite nut, fine-textured and less bitter than the walnuts I grew up eating in France.

A greatly expanded line of Stuckey’s products now includes bagged, tinned, roasted, glazed, and flavored nuts, as well as chocolates, shortbread cookies, apparel, stocking stuffers, corporate gifts, and the kind of memorabilia Southerners like to share with their neighbors. The company’s more than 50 licensed stores now punctuate roads on which we can still escape the stress of modern life.

This article appears in our February 2024 issue.

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