Candy maker has sweet success

Published 8:33 am Wednesday, September 9, 2009

COURTLAND—Starting out as a part-time facilitator for a one-man operation cooking peanut brittle candy, Bobby Barnes, owner of Sandy Acres Peanut Products in Courtland, has quietly grown an ever-expanding business that now employs at least seven part-time people during the fall, his busiest time.

After graduating from Southampton High School in 1957, he worked first at David Kitchen’s Grocery Store in Courtland (1957-59), and then as a lab technician for Gray Products Inc. in Waverly (1959-1965), Allied Chemical in Hopewell (1965-1979) and Union Camp Corp. in its analytical lab (1979-1998). The son of Peggy and Robert Barnes, he recounted how his mother had never worked outside the home when his father died in 1976.

At that time, Barnes met Judy and Gaynelle Riddick, owners of the Peanut Patch in Courtland. He’s not sure how the subject came up, but he told the Riddicks that his mother made good peanut brittle.

Even though his mother did not have the experience to take care of a business, Barnes convinced her to give it a try with his help.

He volunteered to get her a few nuts and deliver her candy since she didn’t drive.

He smiles fondly when he recalls what it meant to his mother when she started getting her little checks. It really pleased her to have some extra money coming in, since her only income was Social Security from his father, who had been a farmer.

Back then, the Peanut Patch (his mother’s only customer) was selling products at a shop in downtown Courtland.

In 1977, her first order there was for 10 pounds of brittle (typical orders today are 900 pounds a week — and 1,000 pounds per week for seven to eight weeks in October and November).

When the Peanut Patch (now Feridies) started doing mail orders, it got to where his mother could not keep up. She asked her son to help with the peanut brittle — and that’s how Barnes started working part-time cooking peanuts, while holding down his full-time jobs.

As time went by, he acquired more and more new customers. In response to increasing demand, he built a kitchen just for cooking peanut brittle in 1991. Many a year, he cooked as much as 30,000 pounds, working numerous late nights making brittle until 10 or 11 p.m. after pulling a full day’s work at Union Camp.

Last September, one of his customers, Powell & Stokes of Windsor, N.C., took some of Barnes’ candy to the Atlanta Gourmet Market, where 12 product categories were judged as Best of Atlanta, an annual Americas Mart exclusive honor that spotlights superior gourmet products. The peanut brittle made by Barnes (packaged as Bertie County Peanuts) was judged as Best Candy Winner.

Many of Barnes’ peanuts go overseas. And after the food show last year, Powell & Stokes received an order from Canada for 10 cases of the peanut brittle judged best in class. Barnes smiled with pride too as he shares that Julia Child tried his peanut brittle (packaged under a customer’s name) at an out-of-state show and was very impressed by it.

Barnes said, “I am amazed at the growth we have had through the years and how something so small can turn out to be such an asset.”

For more information on Sandy Acres Peanut Products (specializing in both peanut and cashew brittle), call 653-2641.