Tour The 92 Year Old Pecan Business Here In Dothan!

Did you know that Dothan, Alabama is home to a 92-year-old business that still operates today? In this episode of "Home Grown", I’m going to take you to Shute Pecan Company, a local family-owned business that’s been a landmark of the Dothan community. We’ll meet owner Sandi Shute Hodge to find out how her family’s legacy has survived for so many years.

Thriving Throughout The Decades

Sandi Shute Hodge’s family business has thrived throughout the decades, serving our community right here in Dothan. The company started in October 1929 and has been going strong for almost 100 years. At the time it opened, the city of Dothan, Alabama was only 44 years old.

Shute Pecan Company was started by Sandi’s grandparents, carried on by her parents, and now is in the hands of Sandi and her husband, John. Additionally, the third and fourth Shute generations have recently moved back to the area and are taking a role and interest in the business.

As Sandi tells us, Shute Pecan Company has always tried to be very involved in the community. They listen to what customers want and try to meet those needs. Changing with the times has also enabled the business to thrive, adjusting the offerings in their storefront and customizing the experience.

Nuts, Honey, Snacks, And More

While pecans are the Shute family’s specialty, they sell a variety of nuts and other offerings. Pecans are offered in all kinds of flavors, from classic roasted and praline to amaretto and cinnamon. They also make snack items, honey, roasted sesame, toasted corn, almonds, and cashews.

Shute Pecan Company has plans for the future, including a few ideas that are two or three years out. Right now, however, they continue to keep reinventing themselves. To keep new merchandise, Sandi and her husband go to markets and also attend training to stay relevant for their customers and the community.

In addition to delicious nuts and snacks, Shute Pecan Company delivers value for people in the community. It’s not always easy, of course, but Sandi strives to offer goods at excellent prices that are hard to beat. In this way, they remain the premier pecan company in Dothan and the area as a whole

The Pecan Crop

While many people aren’t familiar with how the pecan crop works, it can vary year to year. For example, last year was the largest crop that Sandi has seen in her lifetime. This year, however, was the shortest crop she’s ever experienced.

To illustrate, they typically buy their pecan supply six days a week. Sandi’s been back home in the business for about 16 years, and there was only one other year they didn’t buy six days a week. Even then, they managed several days of buying for the week. This year, they’re only buying one day a week. There's just no crop.

The reason for this change is that the trees are stressed from last year. A pecan tree has energy and needs essential nutrients; since last year was the largest crop in decades, some of these stressed pecan producers need a break. Hopefully next year—if there’s not too much rain and weather conditions are right—the pecan crop will recover.

Meet Steve Parker

Steve Parker is a landmark at the Shute Pecan Company, beginning his career back in 1977. After working in the pecan biz for 44 years, he’s still going strong. While you may assume he’s the pecan expert of the Wiregrass area, Steve says he’s still learning every year.

What most folks might not know about, Steve tells us, is that there are a lot of different varieties of pecans in the industry—literally hundreds, many of which are developed each year at Auburn University. These include budding nuts, that are grafted, and native seedlings like the Elliot pecan. There's a lot of science and knowledge that goes into this humble nut.

The Buying Process

Elliot is the number one variety in the industry, Steve says, which means it brings more value than any other type. If someone has pecan trees on their property, they can bring a basket or bucketful to Shute Pecan Company to be bought. Steve explains that the pecans will get put into a hopper first and then be graded for moisture.

The pecans that the company buys have to have a certain amount of moisture in them to be accepted. For example, if a batch has too much moisture, the seller may get turned down. Additionally, the whole pecans need to have 40% to 50% seed in them. They’ll be sent to a room to calculate the moisture and yield to be priced and bought accordingly. Finally, the crop will be put in a supersized bag and sent to the back. Sellers will be paid based on the weight of their haul. They’ll get their ticket and will be paid at the window in cash. 

Agricultural Responsibility

The pecan crop—along with the peanut crop and all the other nuts in the area—requires a great sense of agricultural responsibility. This is true, not only for food but for the community’s economy and people's jobs.

Sandi remembers as a child that, if someone was building a new home and farm, people built on more land and planted enough trees to pay their property taxes. That's just what a person did. Selling their pecans was a way to plan for the future. Of course, that doesn't happen anymore, Sandi says. Young people don't like all the mess that pecan trees make, and she gets it.

As for Shute Pecan Company, they’ve made room for development in our area. They don't have the number of trees and the number of orchards that they used to in Dothan. While things are changing, Sandi says at least the local car company is still here and going strong. If they can make it, so can the pecan business.

Visit The Shute Pecan Company

I hope you enjoyed getting a look inside this local Dothan landmark and everything the Shute Pecan Company has to offer. If you want to stop by and sample their delicious nuts, the store is open Monday through Saturday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. You’ll find them right across the street from Southern Bone & Joint, in between Cottonwood Corners at Cottonwood Highway and Southeast Health, at 1475 Ross Clark Circle in Dothan, Alabama, on the same side of the road as the old Houston County Farm Center.

Make sure you subscribe to my channel so you never miss an episode of "Home Grown", my show where I proudly feature local family-owned businesses through the Wiregrass area. Stay tuned to see what I feature next!