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“We all marched into Stuckey’s, one hundred thousand strong”

I wish her all the best.

[Stephanie] Stuckey, 56, is in the third year of a turnaround for Stuckey’s, which, at its 1960s peak, boasted 368 travel centers along highways in 40 states. Their teal, steeply arched roofs were visible from afar, and their pecan log rolls were a staple of family vacations.

The company also owned a manufacturing plant, a trucking division and some 4,000 billboards that beckoned drivers with the cheesy come-ons for clean restrooms, Texaco gasoline and souvenirs for the kids. A sort of Buc-ee’s before Buc-ee’s.

That heyday was well in the rearview mirror by the time Stephanie Stuckey bought the company in 2019. The few branded stores remaining were owned by licensees. The handful of original buildings that weren’t torn down exist today mostly as “ghost stores,” still recognizable by the roofs but repurposed as everything from a quilt shop in Pennsylvania to a strip club in Florida.

An observant traveler can spot one just off the Gulf Freeway in La Marque and another at the northwest corner of Interstate 45 and Texas 21 in Madisonville, catty-corner from a bustling Buc-ee’s.

Stuckey paid $500,000 for the company, which by the time she took over had been reduced to two employees in the corporate office, three sales reps and a handful of workers in a rented warehouse. It closed the year $133,000 in the red.

Stuckey quickly set a new course, focusing on pecan treats and the nostalgic power of her family name rather than on building new brick-and-mortar convenience stores. She revved up online candy sales, which have grown by 850 percent. The roster of retail clients has swelled to 5,000 locations, including truck stops and grocery stores.

In the summer of 2020, Stuckey’s acquired the snack company Front Porch Pecans and brought on its founder, a third-generation pecan farmer with more business experience, as president of the combined company. The following January, it purchased a candy factory in Wrens, Ga., to bring production of pecan log rolls, divinity and other candies back in house.

Stuckey, who remains as chief executive officer, revived the original recipes developed by her grandmother and boasts that most artificial ingredients are gone, replaced by real chocolate and vanilla.

“We produce the best pecan snacks you will taste, period,” she said.

I’m honestly not sure I’ve ever stopped at a Stuckey’s. The main road trip I used to take as a young single dude was between Houston and San Antonio, and the place I usually stopped was what was then called Grumpy’s in Flatonia; it had a McDonald’s, which meant it had clean bathrooms, plus a big gas station and a hotel attached if for some reason you couldn’t make it the hundred more miles to whichever big city you were aiming for. There was also a small no-name place on the westbound side that had dirtier bathrooms but were a quicker in and out when I was going that direction. The McDonald’s and the gas station and the hotels (two now) are still there, but the Grumpy’s iconography is long gone, while the smaller place is now somewhat bigger. I usually aim for the Buc-ee’s in Luling now anyway.

But I had heard of Stuckey’s, perhaps mostly from the Austin Lounge Lizards song “The War Between The States” (from which this post title comes), and I’m sure I drove past a few back in the day. That also led me to this bit of linguistic controversy from the article:

After wrapping up her tour of the Beer Can House, Stephanie Stuckey popped into the gift shop and emerged wearing a turquoise ball cap she’d bought.

“I love swag,” she said, beaming.

About 90 minutes later at the Omni Houston, smartly attired in a cream-colored dress, she addressed a crowd of accountants and blue-blazered students from a charter school supported by the luncheon’s host, GLO Certified Public Accountants. The firm bought 500 shrink-wrapped tins of Stuckey’s treats to get her there.

Her delivery was crisp, with a touch of Southern humor as she instructed the audience on the preferred pronunciation of “pecan.” (PEE-can, not puh-CON)

As I said on Twitter, I pronounced it PEE-can coming from New York, but was firmly told I was wrong after arriving in Houston. I’ll leave it to you to fight it out in the comments.

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2 Comments

  1. Flypusher says:

    Team “puh-CON” here.

  2. mollusk says:

    PEE-can is a badly (and perhaps anxiously) phrased question. Perhaps it’s an Eastern time zone thing.