We had the good fortune of connecting with Stephanie Stuckey and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Stephanie, what is the most important factor behind your success?
Resilience. Since our founding in 1937, Stuckey’s has epitomized resilience. Our brand was founded by my grandfather, W.S. Stuckey, Sr., as a pecan stand in Eastman, GA. From these humble beginnings, he built a veritable roadside empire of almost 370 stores in 40 states offering snacks, kitschy souvenirs, Texaco gas, and our world-famous pecan log rolls. But, over the years, Stuckey’s has suffered incredible setbacks. WW2 almost brought the fledgling business to a halt with sugar rationing. But my resourceful grandfather survived those lean years by selling candy to the troops. After the War, he benefitted from the economic boom and started building stores as an oasis to families eager to travel and see America. But Stuckey’s was dealt another blow when the Interstate Highway system was built in 1956, bypassing our stores. Instead of folding, my grandfather moved and rebuilt, and America’s new highways were soon dotted with the familiar Stuckey’s blue roofs beckoning motorists to “Relax, Refresh, and Refuel”. Our company reached its peak along with the Great American Roadtrip in the mid-1970’s. But adversity hit again, when my grandfather died and the company fell out of family hands as a result of a hostile corporate takeover. We plummeted when the roadtrip plummeted, gas prices skyrocketed as a result of the Arab Oil Embargo and travelers opted for the friendly skies instead after the Airline DeRegulation Act. It was a perfect storm of adversity. We slowly began a resurgence in the mid-1980’s when Stuckey’s was reacquired by my father. But my father retired in 2010 and left the company run by a skeleton crew. When I took over as CEO in November of 2019, Stuckey’s hadn’t had a CEO in a decade and had been losing money for five years in a row. Thankfully, we’re now on the rebound – once again profitable and adding a robust B2B business line and an online presence, plus recently merged with a healthy line of pecan snacks. The history of Stuckey’s has in many ways mirrored that of our country’s, our ups & downs coincided with national events. We’ve managed, like America has, to dust ourselves off, adapt to changing times, and keep moving forward. That resilience, I believe, is the secret to our success.
What should our readers know about your business?
Diversity of experiences is what sets me apart. I’m an attorney by training, and started my career as a public defender. I ran for office in my early 30’s and served 14 years in the Georgia Legislature as a State Representative. But I hit a plateau in politics, especially as a member of the minority party with limited power to enact change. I didn’t seek re-election in 2012 and instead focused on what I still believe to be the most important issue of our generation: climate change. I ran an environmental law nonprofit for 3 years until Mayor Kasim Reed appointed me as Director of Sustainability for the City of Atlanta, a position I held for over 3 years. I moved into sustainability consulting and was happy with my career as an environmental advocate when I learned my family’s business would be sold to outside investors if I didn’t step in and acquire it. It was a complete about-face in my career trajectory at the age of 53. But I knew my grandfather, and I knew what a special place Stuckey’s had been at our peak. I believe that our greatest regrets are the roads not taken – a fitting analogy for Stuckey’s which has long served as a roadside oasis for America’s traveling public. Despite the fact that we were losing money, I believe in this brand and took on this awesome task. What makes Stuckey’s special is how many people have a Stuckey’s story – I hear them every day from people who share their special memories of stopping at our stores. That’s why I do what I do. To honor my grandfather’s legacy and our customers’ stories – and create new memories for a whole new generation of travelers.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’m all about the roadtrip and exploring the interesting and fun roadside oddities that are often overlooked. I apply that same sense of backroads exploration to trips in an urban environment. Atlanta has a lot of offbeat attractions that don’t make it onto the usual itinerary of museums and historic sites. Some of my favorite places to explore in Atlanta include the Doll’s Head Trail at Constitution Lakes Park, a quirky collection of abandoned dolls along a beautiful nature trail. It’s an especially spooky stop at Halloween. I also love the two-headed cow at the Capital Museum, something I always showed to constituents when I gave tours as a legislator. The Trap Music Museum celebrates Atlanta’s hip hop scene and is definitely not your typical museum experience. And it’s worth the drive down Briarcliff Road (stop at #3687) where you’ll find an exact replica of the White House in a suburban neighborhood. Great photo opp site. For shopping, Little 5 Points is an eccentric collection of stores and great for people watching, I especially love all the 70’s retro memorabilia you can find at Junkman’s Daughter. And Aurora next door is my go-to coffee shop in town. As a vegetarian, I have to give a shout out to The Slutty Vegan, a hometown sensation founded by Pinky Cole. And top off a day of sight seeing at the Star Bar that features an Elvis Shrine Vault.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Shoutout to my grandfather, W.S. Stuckey, Sr., who believed that “Every Traveler is a Friend.” He treated everyone with respect, from the candy plant worker, to the truck driver who hauled our products to our stores, to the investment bankers who loaned him funds to grow the business. I’m most proud of the fact that even during the height of the Jim Crow era in the South, Stuckey’s was always a welcome and safe stop for all travelers and was never segregated. This epitomized how my grandfather lived his life and ran the family business, treating everyone as a friend.
Yelp: We’re listed separately for each of our 67 locations
All images taken by Stephanie Stuckey or owned by Stuckey’s Corp.