Specialty Food Magazine

Summer 2019

Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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W hen Savannah, Ga. native Benny Curl was in high school, he asked out Kay Byrd. Before they left on their first date, Curl had to help Kay's father load dozens of cases of cookies into a delivery van. "That was my introduction to the company," says Curl, 72, speaking of the family-owned Byrd Cookie Company he ended up buying a few decades later. The founder was Kay's grandfather, Benjamin Tillman Byrd, Sr., known as Pop, who opened a bakery in Savannah in 1924. A one-man operation, he made cookie deliveries to corner grocers in his Model-T Ford. Curl speculates it never crossed his mind that his cookies would now be sold from Harrods to Hong Kong, in Disneyland and handed out on Delta flights. His recipe for Scotch Oatmeal Cookies is the same formula the company uses today. Pop was still around when Benny Curl married Kay Byrd 53 years ago. Curl remembers him as "an absolute joy to be around, kind, and gen- erous." Of the Specialty Food Association Lifetime Achievement Award, he adds, "Pop would be blown away, just like I was." Curl hadn't intended to join the family business, setting up an accounting practice in Atlanta after graduating from the University of Georgia. In the late 1980s, Kay's father told his son-in-law he wanted to retire and was contemplating an offer from a company in New Jersey. Instead, Curl was persuaded to buy it and hired a baker from Birmingham, Ala. to take care of the day-to-day operations. After a couple of years of trying to be an accountant in Atlanta and run a cookie company in Savannah (a four-hour drive), he chose the cookies. As much as he enjoyed doing tax work for physicians and dentists, he thought the family business would be good to pass on to the next generation. "Overall, it's a happy business to be in," he says. "Most people like cookies." In addition to the Scotch Oatmeal Cookie recipe, using premium, preservative-free ingredients is unchanged. Each generation has made contributions, Curl notes. Pop made large cookies and his son made them more bite-size, packaging them in decorative tins. Curl developed a lucra- tive relationship with Disney, and in 1990 introduced Key Lime Coolers, the first cookie at the Fancy Food Show to win "Dessert of the Year." Kay and Benny's daughter Stephanie Lindley is now the owner and CEO. Under her reign, Byrd retail shops have expanded, with five in Savannah and two in Charleston, S.C. Two of her sons have joined the business, and Curl is interested to see what they will do. The company recently celebrated its 95th anniversary. Three production lines bake 4,272,000 cookies a day, or about one billion a year. What would Pop make of that? —Julie Besonen BENNY CURL BY R D COOK I E COM PA N Y LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS 48 ❘ SPECIALTY FOOD MAGAZINE specialtyfood.com

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