ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: Tim Strickland '85 sees 'magic' in pralines and Benedictine

By Noell Barnidge
Did you know Savannah’s River Street Sweets is the No. 1 distributor of World Famous Pralines in the United States?

“That is correct,” said co-owner Tim Strickland, a graduate of the Benedictine Military School Class of 1985, who shares the business with his sister, Jennifer. “With franchising and company-owned stores, we have 21 units now. That’s anywhere as far north as Asbury Park, N.J., as far south as Key West, Fla., and as far west as San Antonio, Texas. Our 21 units, and we’re going to have two or three come online here in the next six or eight months in Florida, our company sells more pralines than New Orleans as a city does. We are No. 1. We sell between 7-million and 10-million pralines a year.”

For those who don’t know (and we feel sorry for you if you’ve never eaten one), pralines are a southern concoction in which pecans are coated with butter, sugar, and cream to create a melt-in-your-mouth slice of heaven. Strickland vividly remembers his indoctrination to the gourmet goodness in the 1970s.

“I was 11,” he said. “We were at the Atlanta Gift Market (trade show), and that was before we became candy. We were like a Christmas gift store. If you had that store on River Street now it would do fine. It would do well. But back 47 years ago, that didn’t do so well. We’re at the Atlanta Gift Market. I stumble away from my parents. I’m about two rows over. And this guy who is probably in his late 30s says, ‘Hey, little boy, come over here. I’ve got a sample for you.’ I grabbed a piece of the fudge and went around and grabbed my father. He went over there. Introduced himself to one of the owners of Calico Fudge, who we still do business with today, as a matter of fact.

“My father (Stan) bought two fudge pots right there on the spot and had them shipped to Savannah,” Strickland continued. “He and my mother (Pam) learned how to make the pralines at our house on Oregon Street, which is right off Waters Ave., which is about a half-mile from BC. I remember being in that house and watching them reading out of a ‘Southern Living’ cookbook. It was a ‘Southern Living’ recipe, but they took it and molded it into their own, and they made the first batch of pralines when I was 11, right there in front of me. It was like three-to-five pralines. And then my father adapted that recipe into the fudge pot/praline pot and it’s still the same pots we use today. It was magic. I saw the magic right in front of my eyes.”

Strickland also sees magic in his alma mater. He is ecstatic that his nephews, Willy (a senior), and Luis (a freshman), are experiencing Benedictine Military School as Cadets.

“Willy’s got my (football jersey) number, 72. Let’s hope he holds that number proud this year,” he said, laughing. “(BC is) different now but, I think, just as good or better. There are a lot more lay people. The structure of the school is somewhat different because there are not as many priests and monks, but the lay people and the administrative staff are so great there, led by Fr. Frank (Ziemkiewicz, O.S.B.). What they provide for those boys and my nephews, I think, is an exceptional learning, athletic, high school, religious, core that can carry them throughout their lives. There’s no doubt. Their best friends probably will be the same guys, 30 years from now, they were in high school with.”

Strickland credits Benedictine Military School with helping to provide him with stability and brotherhood at a time in his life when he needed it.

“I won’t say all of my success comes from BC, but I can tell you a vast majority of it has. No doubt about it,” he said. “When I was younger, I’m saying before the age of 11 or 12, we had moved almost every year of my life for various reasons. When we landed in Savannah, where my grandmother and grandfather were, my parents and my grandmother five or six years before that started The Cotton Bale (gift shop), which then became River Street Sweets. It was the beginning and our original location. (It’s) now the Cotton Bale. That started in 1973. So, our 50th year is 18 months from now. That’s a pretty big deal for us.

“Anyway, we were Catholic, and it just made sense for me to go to Blessed Sacrament, which obviously fit me right into Benedictine,” Strickland continued. “I was a kid who had moved around a lot and had never really put any roots down, and never built those bonds that you have with others being in a community for such a long time. I was an outsider moving to Savannah. Obviously, I’m not now. I’m a Savannahian. But at that time, I sure was. At Blessed Sacrament, I would say three-quarters of the boys were going to BC. I fed right into that. All I knew about it at the time when I was in sixth or seventh grade was that it was great in football. And, obviously, I understood about the importance of academics and all of that. But when I landed there, it gave me a real brotherhood which was like family to me. Because our family was all over the country, we were spread out. It was just myself, my sister, my dad, my mother, and my grandparents here, locally. It gave me a whole other outside family.”

Strickland said the Benedictine monks were strict and demanded discipline, but they also were extremely supportive. For example, a BC monk who gave a Cadet a stern reprimand one day would be the first person to put his arm around that Cadet the next day and offer encouragement.

“Their structure and intelligence, and them wanting and pushing us to be organized and do our best with that brotherhood really shaped me to this day,” he said. “How I run my business is a lot the way I was taught by those monks. There’s no doubt about it.”

There’s also the BC brotherhood, which has been instrumental throughout Strickland’s life.

“And still, my very best friends were in my class or around my class,” Strickland said. “Jimmy Feuger is my best friend. He’s a year younger than me. His brother, David Feuger. Paul Mayer. All those guys graduated with me. Rob Creech. Richard Geriner. Ray DeMott. Those are my core best five, six, seven friends and I still hang out with them, talk to them, families know each other. We spend time together. All of that is really what shaped me and gave me what I needed in my teenage years for sure.”

Like River Streets Sweets, as Benedictine Military School continues to grow, Strickland said the possibilities are endless.

“I go back to Fr. Frank and Greg (Markiton ’92) and Danny (Britt), and all the other leadership over there,” he said. “They’ve had a real vision of what needed to be done, how the school needed to progress to get better and stronger, and the fundraising has been off the charts. I was in on some of the early stages of that, so I got to hear a lot of information. I was on the board probably 15 years ago. And the board has done a really good job. So, for that whole group to have vision and take us into the next decades to come has filled my heart with a lot of joy. The academics are just so wonderful. What a great place to send your boys.”