Who: Tucker Pecan Company
What: Southern Pecans
Where: Montgomery, Alabama
In 1952 Monroe Tucker started selling in-shell pecans alongside fresh produce at a curb stand in Montgomery, Alabama, writing the first lines of Tucker Pecan Company's "nutty" story.
When his son Cecil took over the small business, he saw the potential to do much more with the nutritious nuts, and transformed the company into a shelling operation, buying a shelling plant in Louisiana and moving its equipment to Montgomery. Since manually removing a pecan’s meat from its hard casing can be laborious, time-consuming work, his already-shelled pecans were a hit, and the company grew at a steady pace over the next 50 years.
Today Tucker Pecan is owned by Leslie Tucker Little, Cecil’s daughter, and this year the company will sell approximately 120,000 pounds of shelled pecan halves. But that’s now only one facet of the highly diversified company: Tucker Pecan shells and sells pecans, sells in-shell pecans, creates delicious pecan products and candies (offered in the downtown retail store and through online ordering), sells shelled pecans wholesale, and provides pecans to non-profits and other organizations to use in fundraising efforts.
Plain and Simple
Plain, shelled pecans are still a major component of the company’s revenue, and it all starts at one of several pecan farms. “We buy whole pecans from farms in Alabama and Georgia,” says the company's president, David Little. “We always get them from whoever has the best ones." But they always come from the Southeast. According to David, while pecans grow — and grow in mass quantities — in Texas and other Southwest areas, the best ones come from the deep South. According to Little, “The ones down and around here have a different color, flavor, and oil content, and we just think they taste better.”
The pecans taste great when they're exposed to high, dry heat and seasoned; the proof is in the countless bags and tins of roasted and salted pecans Tucker sells every year — about 20,000 pounds around the holidays alone.
And things get sweeter when they’re combined with chocolate, honey, cinnamon and more to make one of Tucker’s many pecan candies. “We started the candy part of the business about 12 years ago,” says Little. “We were outsourcing that, but we just couldn’t get the quality we wanted, so we moved the candy-cooking in-house.”
A Good Nut
The constant quest for quality is at the core of everything Tucker Pecan does. “We don’t want to be a huge company,” says Little. “We just want to sell good products and keep improving. It’s so important to me to keep the Tucker name synonymous with quality.”
Honoring the legacy her grandfather and father built and left behind is important to Leslie too, who spent a lot of time watching her father work and “helping” when she was a child. “I can remember being about six and standing in the big wooden boxes the pecans come to us in and hunting for bad ones, ones that had worm holes or were cracked. Dad would give me a penny for every one that I found.” she says. “It’s just a part of me now, and I want everyone to remember that we are a small family company focused on customer service. I know a lot of our customers by name.”
Some of the Tucker family members aren’t blood relatives, but are no less embedded in the company’s story. “There are two ladies who’ve been with us for so long, since they were just kids; they were here with my dad,” says Leslie. Sisters Maddie and Josephine Hudson know the business inside and out. “They do a little bit of everything here now, but they really shine helping in our candy kitchen.”
The dedication of loyal employees and a long history can be credited to David and Leslie’s belief that no matter how good things are, they can always get better. “We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing right and keep looking for ways to find even better pecans and make even better pecan products,” David said.
5 Questions for Leslie Little of Tucker Pecans
1. What would your grandfather and father think of the company today?
I think they'd be real proud.
2. What is most important to the past and future success of Tucker Pecan?
Our customer service and quality products. We take a lot of pride in forming relationships with people and have many repeat customers.
3. What do pecans mean to you?
To me, they mean family. Pecans have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. And as a Southerner, I think they are a part of our food traditions, especially around the holidays.
4. How many roasted and salted pecans do you sell around the holidays?
Approximately 20,000 pounds.
5. What is your favorite Tucker Pecan product?
I am actually more of a salty gal, so I love our roasted pecans. Most afternoons, I’ll go up front and grab a handful for a snack — they hit the spot.