For McCool Travel’s 191st travel interview, I am pleased to present Stephanie Stuckey. For anyone who has road tripped in the US South, Stuckey’s is a familiar name. I had the great honor to have lunch with and speak with the current CEO and dynamo social media rockstar, Stephanie Stuckey. The social media posts of her road trips and quirky and interesting discoveries are fun, interesting, and inspiring—follow her, links are below.
Very high on my list of people I wanted to meet was Stephanie Stuckey. She WAS on that list because last week we did meet! Woo hoo! Stephanie very graciously met Julie and I for lunch and then gave me another chunk of her valuable time to do this travel interview.
Most of my prior travel interviews were conducted by email but this one was done in person. So, Stephanie’s answers might seems conversational and that it because they were. If anything seems convoluted or otherwise unclear, it is due to my editing. Enjoy!
Stephanie Stuckey’s bio:
Stephanie Stuckey is CEO of Stuckey’s Corporation, known as a roadside oasis serving up pecan log rolls and kitschy souvenirs since it was founded in 1937 by her grandfather, W.S. Stuckey, Sr. Stephanie worked as a trial lawyer, was elected to seven terms as a state representative, ran an environmental law firm, served as Director of Sustainability for Atlanta, and taught as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Georgia School of Law.
She purchased Stuckey’s in November of 2019 and the Stuckey’s story has been featured recently in the New York Times Sunday Business Section, the TODAY Show, and The Washington Post. Stephanie’s achievements include being named one of the Most Admired CEOs of 2022 by the Atlanta Business Chronicle and 100 Most Influential Georgians by Georgia Trend Magazine.
When she is not running Stuckey’s, Stephanie enjoys traveling by car to explore the backroads of America and pulling over at every boiled peanut stand and the World’s Largest Ball of Twine.
Travel Interview With Stephanie Stuckey from Stuckey’s Corporation
I am originally from Eastman Georgia and I have lived in Atlanta since 1994.
ON EVERY TRIP I MUST BRING …
A bucket hat to keep the sun out of your face and it also helps if it is windy.
3 FAVORITE HOME-AWAY-FROM-HOME PLACES …
- The Georgia coast and I think my favorite place on the Georgia coast is Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island. I have never seen any other place like that.
- This is a big home away from home but Route 66—2000 miles of it. But I love that the Mother Road is an attraction and that the road is just so full of adventure and stories and small towns connecting you with people and places.
- This one may change but recently I spent several days in Pontiac, Illinois and I really liked it. It is a small town on Route 66 that really has made an effort to promote their local tourism. They have a museum and a local theater that they renovated. They have murals downtown and good restaurants. I love the bars and they have a Wally’s truck stop.
A FAVORITE TRAVEL MEMORY …
When I was about 10 years old my parents took me and my two brothers on a road trip to Florida in our woody station wagon and it was unlike our other vacations—where everything was planned out and we made reservations.
This one we had zero itinerary and my parents let us pull over wherever so if we said pull over—at Cypress Gardens or Waikiki or Citrus Tower or Six Gun territory or Silver Spring, we pulled over.
That is my best memory with our favorite stop being Six Gun Territory in Ocala Florida, which unfortunately is now a strip mall.
3 FAVORITE TRAVEL BRANDS …
- So I cannot say Stuckey‘s because conflict of interest, right? But I really do love Stuckey’s and similar to Stuckey’s I really like Wally’s on a great American Road trip. They only have two locations and they are definitely destination locations. Wally’s is like Stuckey’s on steroids and I like the way they pay homage to the road trip.
- Airstream. I think Airstream is a great, sweet, classic road trip brand that has also managed to reinvent itself, and remain relevant to a whole new generation of consumers, who really love it.
- Go with Stuckey‘s for the third but I am really trying to think of a coffee brand … I will say Dutch Bros Coffee and I like their story. It was it was founded by two brothers as a cart. They are all about coffee and have some of the most amazing, unique flavors you will find anywhere. They are mostly in the Mountain west in the Midwest and they are rapidly expanding.
3 MONEY-SAVING TRAVEL TACTICS I USE …
- The biggest travel expenses you can save on is where you stay and I am more interested in places that are different than high-end so I am often happier at the Thunderbird Inn in Savannah Georgia that is like $70 a night as opposed to a four-star hotel that costs quadruple. Do your research in advance and find unique hotels or Airbnbs that are not going to cost an arm and a leg.
- I save money on meals by eating a lot of leftovers. I also often travel with friends and we will split entrées. I usually do not have breakfast or lunch and instead just eat leftovers from dinner the night before. Just a cup of coffee and a bagel or something small. I prefer spending my money on dinner.
- Third is walk and not rely on Uber or Lyft, Walk or I take public transit when I travel. I took transit in Los Angeles, and I have friends who lived in LA for decades, and they have never taken public transit—but that is how you get to know the city.
3 WAYS THAT I HAVE FUN WHILE TRAVELING …
- Oh, I love road trips. The fun of road tripping is that you can control where you go. You can pull over wherever you feel like and control the freedom to do what you want and decide when you want to pull over and what song do you want to listen to and what snacks you want to take in the car with you. All those choices that you do not get to make on an airplane. I do fly because sometimes I have to but I really love to drive. I love that independence that you get with driving and it is one of my favorite things to do when I travel.
- Another is just explore places that most people do not see. It is super exciting to me, for example, to find a single arch McDonald sign. There are people who live in those communities and drive by it every day, and do not even notice or know how rare and cool it is. Or the other day I found an original Krispy Kreme building with the crown line on top, and there are less than 10 of them left. So I get as excited about that as a bird watcher does about seeing a rare bird. I like seeing things that most people do not see.
- I love discovering a good dive bar because that is where you can meet the most interesting people.
8 WORD (OR LESS) TRAVEL MANTRA …
“Go ahead and pull over here.”
FAVORITE NON-TRAVEL WEBSITE …
Well, Stuckeys.com obviously. But other than Stuckey’s, I do not really think this is a travel website per se, I really love RoadArch.com. It is one website that people do not normally know about and talks about roadside architecture in different towns. For example, it will alert you to where one of the original Taco Bell signs is or where there is a motel from the 1940s in pristine condition.
MOST MEMORABLE SOUVENIR …
My Harry Smith autographed Stuckey’s back scratcher. Stuckey’s had a filming on the TODAY show and Harry Smith did the interview and brought in a back scratcher with Stuckey’s in Mississippi on it. So I bought one just like his and I had him autograph it.
FAVORITE CHEAP EAT …
Eats tacos wherever you go. Street street tacos are the best.
RECENT DISCOVERY …
Just now we had lunch at this Amish place and they had the most amazing pies. So Yoder’s Restaurant in Sarasota Florida is my latest discovery, where there is this whole wonderful Amish community especially in the winter months. So very cool.
I AM FORTUNATE TO HAVE MET …
Charles McCool and Julie McCool, fellow travelers through life. [ed. note. Surely she would have chose someone more interesting if we were not sitting in front of her! ]
I WOULD LIKE TO MEET …
I would like to meet the guys who created Roadside America. I love what they do and Roadside America is almost like a Wikipedia for roadside enthusiasts because you can add to it. I am trying to get better about adding on there because I am such a fan girl. I just love that they came up with it and that they continue to populate it. I think that is just really cool.
Thank you so much Stephanie for sharing your travel advice and inspiration.
McCool Travel presents tips from travel experts in our 5 Minutes travel interview series—featuring travel industry giants, super frequent travelers, and adventurous persons.
Previous 5 Minutes travel interview: Vicky Sosa.