River Street Sweets Voted One of the South's Greatest Bosses

Tim & Jennifer Strickland / River Street Sweets

There are many icons of the city of Savannah: the fountain at Forsyth Park, with its rooster tails of glistening water shooting into the heavens; the Bird Girl statue, ubiquitous in every gift shop in town; the mob of party-goers that flood the city every year for St. Patrick’s Day. But there is one icon that’s more elusive, harder to get into a photo and thus less likely to be included in tourism brochures.

It’s the sweet smell of pralines; sugary goodness carried on the breezes of River Street and spurring the child in all of us to indulge our sweet tooth. It’s less tangible than those other icons, but make no mistake, it is as much a part of Savannah’s DNA as its famed squares. From the doorways of River Street Sweets and Savannah’s Candy Kitchen, just a short walk from one another, that aroma defines Savannah. And we owe it all to one family. The Strickland family, one way or another, has been operating these stores since opening River Street Sweets in 1978. As Jennifer Strickland puts it, “My family brought the praline here… It’s a little piece of Savannah.” She’s not wrong.

The story of how one family opened two stores is a tale of a family divided. Tim and Jennifer’s parents, Stan and Pam Strickland’s 1991 divorce led Stan to open Savannah’s Candy Kitchen, making the couple bitter rivals and pulling the family apart. Jennifer and Tim stayed with Pam’s store, River Street Sweets, as the two brands diverged and the family grew estranged. River Street Sweets grew its thriving mail-order business while opening stores from Atlanta to Charleston, while Savannah’s Candy Kitchen followed suit with its own catalog and locations as far afield as Maryland.

Clearly, though the family had gone separate ways, their individual trajectories showed there was something to that formula they’d created that simply bred success.

So you can imagine how far they’ll go now that the Strickland family is back in business as one united front. “Oddly enough, while the business pulled us apart, today it’s brought us back together,” said Jennifer. “It’s an extension of who we are. It’s part of us and we’re part of it.”

It began quietly with Tim and Jennifer reconciling with their father and moving part of their operation into excess space Stan had at one of his buildings. Then, they began sharing information on distributors.

“Within a couple months, we said were thinking about expanding,” said Jennifer. “Dad had been franchising and we had been too, so we just said, ‘Look, let’s just do this together.’”

Thus, a dual-branded franchise concept was launched a year ago with the first River Street Sweets – Savannah’s Candy Kitchen location in Pooler. Another was recently launched in Key West, with more on the way in the coming years.

While the name of the co-branded venture is, by Jennifer’s admission, “a mouthful,” it speaks volumes of the vast cultural cachet each side of the family amassed over the years.

“We spent a lot of time trying to come up with another name. We talked about the Praline Pot and Strickland Sweets, among other things,” she said. “But we were told repeatedly by franchise experts, attorneys and other people we were working with, ‘You can’t afford to not use what you’ve already developed.’”

It also makes sense to use both names considering this new franchise concept owes equal amounts of its charm to both Strickland family ventures.

“We went through both stores and cherry- picked what we thought were best practices for both, anywhere from materials in store to packaging design to cash wraps,” said Jennifer. For example, the famous train from Savannah’s Candy Kitchen will appear at each new franchise location, which will all feature the Savannah-style exposed brick and distressed wood that define both stores.

More importantly, what each side of the Strickland operation brings to the table is deep knowledge of setting up new locations and doing it right. It also doesn’t hurt that each company’s massive mail-order operations give them precise data into which areas of the country have the highest demand for that deliciously authentic Savannah candy experience.

“The first thing we do is pull up databases,” said Jennifer. “Often we’re surprised by how many people are in different areas.” It should come as no surprise, really. The city of Savannah has become renowned the world over for its delectable candy. Now the family that made that happen is using their fame to spread their empire. And for the first time, they’re doing it together. Said Jennifer, “No more than a few weeks goes by that one of us doesn’t say, ‘Hey, can you believe how far we’ve come?’” For a family that put Savannah candy on the map, nothing could be sweeter than coming together as they take their next step.

To read more about the South's greatest bosses, subscribe now or pick up the August/September issue of South magazine.