MINEOLA - Businesswoman Lou Ann Hogue never met a nut she couldn't crack.

She grew up watching her farming parents Skeets and Frankie Turbeville pop open pecans. They started out in the barn, with a single cracker and limited orders.

But as word spread the Turbevilles could put the squeeze on a pecan without messing up the meat, people came calling in droves.

And that's how the Pecan House in Mineola was born.

Ms. Hogue is at the helm today, guiding the business into the hearts and minds of pecan fans everywhere, one carefully cracked nut at a time.

"My dad started the business in 1978," she said with a grin. "I just grew up selling stuff … now people just call me the Pecan Lady."

The Pecan House, 1225 W. Farm-to-Market Road 564, seems to keep a nutty schedule.

The beloved shop is open just a few months out of the year, from late October until March, to coincide with the harvest season.

It opened just last week, and the shelves are bursting with fresh, unique selections from growers in Texas and Georgia.

"We never know, until a few days before, when we're going to get them," Mrs. Hogue said of timing the arrival of her products. "We hang a sign to let people know we're open, but a lot of people find out by word of mouth."

A collection of 10 cracking machines performs the tedious task of opening the nut, grinding through about 60 pounds an hour.

A small staff of devoted employees helps process, package and prepare items for sale.

Mrs. Hogue is the resident mechanic, ensuring each whirling cracking mechanism remains clean and in good working order.

"We want it to crack as perfect as possible, so it will come out whole," she said, inspecting processed products for uniformity. "Some days they (machines) run all day long."

The Pecan House sells on average between 25,000 and 35,000 pounds a season, not including candy.

Customer Sylvia Doggett of Mineola stopped in during the opening week to pick up treats for entertaining.

"I was so glad they were open," she said. "People watch for the sign."

Mrs. Hogue has taken her family's pecan business to new heights in recent years, adding new products, which can be purchased at the counter or on line, mineolapecanhouse.com.

The shop has an old-fashioned general store vibe, but the business model is far from stuck in the past.

It features oodles of choices and flavors from which to choose, including whole, cracked and shelled, plus peanuts, both in and out of the shell.

There are also Brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts, fresh ground peanut butter, pecan crackers, honey, ribbon cane or sorghum syrup, jams, jellies, honey butters, dried fruit, praline, peanut brittle, peanut patties, recipe books and gifts available for purchase.

A new product is introduced each year, including special baking mixes featuring photos of the grandchildren.

"Our best seller is still the cracked pecan," Mrs. Hogue said. "My dad didn't shell at all … the majority of people today like cracked and shelled."

Employee Glenda Coffman has been pitching in to help for more than 30 years.

"Our husbands worked for the railroad and this is what we did," she said. "I love it. I've learned a lot … but I really I love being around Lou Ann."

So, what constitutes a good pecan?

"Plump, not too dry," Mrs. Hogue said. "Freshness is the main thing. I eat pecans all day long … I never get tired of them."

Calorie counters might be cringing at the idea of all that in-store eye candy, but no worries.

Pecans apparently have benefits other than looking lovely in a pie.

It seems they are packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber and can be heart-friendly when consumed in accordance with healthy diets and lifestyles.

"I buy all their cans, they are already prepared and they are good for gifts," said customer Crystal Patschke of Mineola.

She doesn't have a favorite variety, adding with a wink, "I like the kind I don't have to work hard to eat … it's nice, because they do all the work."

The store may be brimming with choices now, but come March, the shelves should be bare. At least that's the hope for now.

"It's like starting a whole new business every year," Mrs. Hogue said. "I love it, or I wouldn't do it."

TWITTER @ TMT _ Jacque

Reporter

Jacque Hilburn-Simmons is an award-winning journalist who has been writing professionally for 30 years. She's a former police reporter who also wrote a book about the KFC murder. She shares stories about East Texas through her Behind the Wheel column.

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