Fruitcake business grows from humble beginnings

Posted 8/2/19

BEAR CREEK — It’s not Christmas yet — the calendar says that’s five months away — but it’ll be here almost before we know it. And with it comes a number of feelings and events.

For …

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Fruitcake business grows from humble beginnings

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BEAR CREEK — It’s not Christmas yet — the calendar says that’s five months away — but it’ll be here almost before we know it. And with it comes a number of feelings and events.

For Christians, it’s a time to remember the birth of Jesus, when faith teaches that God became a human being to show the world who He is. For those who don’t share that belief, it’s a holiday majoring on the secular. And for folks in both camps, it’s a time of family, friends, celebrations of various kinds and giving gifts.

Those gifts take many forms – from the whimsical to the serious, from the expensive to the cheap, from the wanted to the not-so-wanted.

And from the edible to the inedible. Those include cakes, pies, fudge, cookies and other candies of many kinds...and fruitcake.

There’s an old joke that says there’s only one fruitcake in the entire world and people just take turns passing it around. Sometimes fruitcake gets a bad rap. But there’s a local business doing all it can to change that perception, and while more and more people have become familiar with their product, there are still many folks who find it hard to believe that such a tasty item comes from a rambling building sitting in what for years was a cow pasture near Bear Creek.

Southern Supreme got its start in Berta Lou Scott’s kitchen, adjacent to the room that was the hair dressing shop in her home in southwestern Chatham County.

“I’d bake fruitcakes and give them to customers,” she says. “They kept saying they were so good, why didn’t I sell them?”

The gifts and requests kept growing in number and sometime around 1985, she hung up her scissors and clippers when husband Hoyt brought home a used pizza oven that took up residence in what had been the garage at the house of daughter Belinda and son-in-law Wayne Jordan.

“Hoyt and a partner had a job making wood stoves,” she says. “Then that gave out and I said I don’t know what we’re going to do unless we sell fruitcakes. Sometimes Hoyt would give me a negative answer on something but he didn’t this time.”

It didn’t take long for the business to outgrow those quarters, and today Southern Supreme Nutty Fruitcakes and Gourmet Confections sits in that converted pasture and has a parking lot big enough to accommodate the tour buses, church vans and customer autos that begin flocking there in late fall.

At the moment, the showroom is empty. As a matter of fact, it’s in a state of transition, being enlarged and rearranged by a crew supervised by Hoyt and Berta Lou’s son Randy, one of the several Scott family members involved in the operation.

“We’ve added on 10 times,” he says. “I’m pretty sure this will be my last.”

The secret to the success may be found in the name — “Nutty.” While there is fruit in Southern Supreme fruitcakes, there’s also a generous helping of nuts, giving the cake a distinctive flavor without a heavy dose of jellied fruit often found in other brands.

“Last year we sold something like 225,000 cakes,” Randy says. “About 45 percent went out the front door here. The rest were at various craft shows, like the Christmas show in Charlotte, or internet or wholesale sales. And we also ship out a bunch to England and to APO military addresses. We make about 3,000 cakes a day in the busy season. And really the only fruit in them is dates, pineapple and golden raisins. We’ll put 90 pounds of nuts in a 300-pound mix.”

Besides the generous amounts of nuts, the Scotts are convinced perhaps the major factor in customer acceptance is in how the cakes are baked.

“We continually stir the batter,” Randy says, “so there’s no air in them. They’re very dense.”

Changing the stigma of too much jellied fruit in many fruit cakes was the hardest obstacle to overcome.

“We started going to the show in Charlotte,” Randy says, “in a 10-foot by 10-foot square space. We had a hard time getting folks to try our fruitcake. They’d say, ‘I don’t like fruitcake,’ and we’d say, ‘Just try it.’ Now we have a 900-square foot space in that show.”

Other marketing stops were made in the early years, including at the Southern Home Show in Raleigh and even the N.C. State Fair. The success of the seasonal goodies led Berta Lou and her staff to begin experimenting with other delectables.

“We added maple peanuts one year because the staff wanted to make baskets,” she says. “Then we added pecans, peppers, candy, relish, it just evolved.”

Typically, the showroom includes not only those items but a number of goodies with “chocolate” in their name along with jams and jellies, including 23,000 jars of pepper jelly last year. Fruitcakes, in a wide variety of sizes, are still at the center of the business but Berta Lou, who Randy says is definitely in charge of product development, is always toying with new ideas.

“We’ve tried some product lines in the past that just didn’t turn out well enough to justify keeping them,” he says. “So we didn’t.”

When things are at their busiest, Southern Supreme will employ around 100 people. While many are extended family, there are also a number of community residents who come at the holiday season to pitch in. Several year-round staff members are immediate family members, including Randy, daughters Sandy and Belinda, her husband Wayne, and Gail Scott, wife of Hoyt and Berta Lou’s son Ricky. One of the seasonal veterans is Barbara Dowd.

“She’s our senior worker,” Berta Lou says, “been with us for 30 years. She makes the bows for our gifts. Every year we ask her if she’s coming back next year.”

A peek at the calendar lets the family know time is moving on — time to finish the remodeling, time to prepare the pickles and relishes and other non-seasonal products, and time to catch their collective breaths. “Sometimes in the busy time you can’t tell Tuesday from Saturday,” Randy says. “When we have our open house, we’ll have 5,000 people come through in four days.”

It’s been years since the first fruitcakes were sold from Berta Lou’s dining room table.

“It’s taken a lot of hard work,” she says, “but I know we’ve been blessed along the way. This couldn’t have happened without Hoyt, our children and my sisters Ethelda and Sue Ann. It’s been a warm feeling to follow God’s plan for our lives.”

Southern Supreme is at 1609 Hoyt Scott Road, Bear Creek. The phone numbers are 336-581-3141 or 1-877-815-0922. And the good news is that, even with the remodeling and in the busy times, the sample bar of goodies and coffee is always open.


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