High Cotton: The Sweet South
Sitting down with Stan Strickland you can’t help but feel a bit intimidated. His presence seems to take up the entire room from the way he speaks, to how he holds himself, like a Santa Clause that has connections with to the Mob. This in itself almost explains why Savannah Candy Kitchen has become such an icon in Savannah, but learning how this self-made man got to be where he is today is as interesting as it is serendipitous.
Born in Woodbine, Georgia, Stan’s mother worked at a candy factory that made old-fashioned delicacies like pecan pralines and peanut brittle (this connection wouldn’t make itself apparent until years later.) In 1973, Stan along with his wife Pam, fresh from the army and living in Germany, decided to open up a year round Christmas store on River Street, with the promise of the new Hyatt opening, they were the fourth business to open. Stan remembers how desolate it was. “The only other businesses were Boars Head and a place that sold baskets…you could throw a bowling ball down the entire stretch of River Street and not hit a single soul.” Strickland says with a laugh. But things weren’t as funny back then; after a while they realized the Christmas store wasn’t working out so they tried other venues—glass engraving, a line of country style furniture— “But there just wasn’t enough people no matter what you did.” Says Strickland. Finally, almost ready to throw in the towel, the Strickland Family, Stan, Pam, and their kids Tim and Jen attended the Atlanta Gift Show. Tim, ten and the time, wandered off and found a fudge kettle and they decided to buy it. In 1978, Stan and Pam tinkered with old-fashioned recipes and modified the kettle in order to make pralines, a modification he ads, that they still use today. Jennifer, then thirteen, helped Stan make the first batch.
Now comes the moment, the realization if you will, that everyone who has ever been inside one of Stan’s stores will know. The first time they made pralines, the smell wafted through the store and caused all the meandering customers to immediately perk up and wait for a batch to be finished. This is when he knew he had something special. Today pralines are still about 35% of their entire business, outselling any other product.