Priester’s Pecans retail store a tradition for owners and shoppers

Published 1:39 pm Wednesday, December 7, 2022

The Lowndes Signal

Just off I-65, at exit 142, sits Priester’s Pecans retail store on Bishop Bottom Road, where Ellen Burkett and her son Cliff Burkett, and her son-in-law Trent Thompson, carry on the tradition of selling sweet treats to travelers passing through Fort Deposit.

“From coffee to lunch, ice cream and rocking chairs, we’ve got something for kids and parents too,” Ellen said.

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The store boasts a wide variety of offerings — handmade candies, gourmet coffee, lunches, clothing, and decorative items — many sourced in Alabama and some crafted in Lowndes and Dallas counties.

Hense Ellis, a former Mayor of Fort Deposit, partnered with Lee Priester to start the company in 1935. His son, Ned, wanting to expand his candy kitchen, purchased a building at the current location and relocated the retail store there.

After a 1996 fire, the store reopened in a newly-constructed space at the same location, where Ellen continues the operation today.

“The customers are so special,” Burkett said. ‘There’s a family that comes through who I’ve watched their kids grow up. Our customer base comes from this interstate. You can ride through our parking lot and check off states like Tennessee and Illinois. We’re a tradition for a lot of families.”

Burkett has been running the stop for 35 years and has witnessed the addition of a viewing gallery, which enables guests to watch the candy-making process, and an upgrade to the store’s restaurant, where shoppers can enjoy a meat-and-three lunch, sandwiches, and hotdogs. 

Today, the operation employs 20 full-time employees as well as 20 additional part-time workers.

Fort Deposit native Caroline Bell has worked at Priester’s nearly five years and loves working there.

“There’s always something different every day,” Bell said. “I get to make fudge and I enjoy doing that the most. It’s not like other jobs. Priester’s is more family oriented.”

Scott and Carol Marlow stop by the store each time they travel to Orange Beach from their home in Hoover.

“It’s a tradition,” Scott said. “The pecans are always excellent. The roasted pecans are good and the chocolate covered pecans. It’s the perfect stop for us.”

Carol said she enjoys the clothing as well as the treats.

“We’ve seen the viewing gallery several times,” Carol said. “We bring our granddaughter, and (we) took our children when they were little.”

From candy making to retail strategies, Ellen enjoys serving customers more than any other aspect of the business.

“Seeing that customers come and find something that makes them happy is my favorite part of the day,” Ellen said. “If it makes their trip happy, I enjoy it.”