Call him nuts, but David Armistead has enjoyed the success of growing Decatur’s Tennessee Valley Pecan Co. from a small-town business to a nearly global brand.
The company has earned its spot on Bank Street, Armistead said. Painted in warm, cozy colors and accessorized with old-fashion items, the store has historic roots. Decatur residents Geneva and Judson Hawthorne started the seasonal business from an outbuilding at the end of their driveway in 1942.
It since has flourished into an enterprise transporting the Southern staple into the kitchens of all 50 states, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Armistead and his brother Steve knew the brand well. Their parents had bought the treats before. They snacked on the company’s chocolate-covered pecans. So when they heard the Hawthornes were thinking about retirement, they jumped onboard to keep the pecans coming.
“It was a product that sold a lot of promise, that already had a proven track record,” Armistead said. “We knew that this was a lightning in a bottle so to speak.”
Amanda Towry, 33, said she goes to the store at least once every couple months to refill the stash she keeps in her desk at work. It depends on her mood which type of nut she gets.
If she’s craving something sweet and salty combination, she’ll reach for the chocolate-covered nuts. Honey-glazed pecans are set aside for those lighter days.
“Sometimes I go in there for a craving,” Towry said. “Other times I go in there to get gifts, especially for guys. They love it.”
After writing a letter to the Hawthornes about buying the business, David and Steve Armistead closed on the deal in 2011.
Their mission for the company: expand the business model from a seasonal enterprise to a 12-month operation.
The business venture required David Armistead to move from the fast-paced action of Atlanta to the slower lifestyle of Decatur.
A 1972 Decatur High School graduate, he was happy to carry on a legacy produced in his own hometown, while still being able to generate out-of-the-box ideas by tapping into his Atlanta resources.
“I enjoy the atmosphere here, and I also like to get recharged in Atlanta. It’s vibrant. It’s active. It’s where you get your creative juices going,” David Armistead said. “In the end, it’s only real estate. I grew up with this, but I adapted to that, and it works.”
David Armistead used his Atlanta contacts to help him design the store. An old-fashioned wooden sign hangs on the storefront, and barrels are stationed in display cases. Visitors also can get a peek of a tunnel used to smuggle alcohol during the prohibition days.
While finding ways to keep the old-timey feel in the store, the owners also had to assimilate the brand into the technological age. They had to learn how to communicate the company’s culture through social media and websites.
Towry said the owners have done a good job growing the brand.
“There has always been a great vision to grow bigger and put Decatur on the map, but David is also committed to keeping the store here and keeping it original,” Towry said.
On top of those growing pains, David Armistead said they still had to tackle the biggest challenge: finding a way to sell nuts throughout the year.
By listening to customers wants, they figure out the customers’ taste buds.
Toasted, key lime and honey-glazed pecans sold best during the summer months.
Chocolate-covered products were less likely to melt and were best sellers from late-fall until early spring.
The company also invested more into gifts baskets, created a chocolate lovers deal for Valentine’s Day and slapped logos on T-shirts, bags and aprons.
David Armistead said expanding the brand has been tough, but he doesn’t feel the pressure of carrying on one of the longest Decatur legacies.
“We are having too much fun with it,” he said. “We wake up every day and say, ‘Wow. What will happen today?’ It’s all uncharted territory.”