On any given day that you stumble into the Claxton Fruit Cake headquarters in the heart of Claxton in Evans County, phones are ringing, papers are flying, and cakes are baking – especially during the busiest months of the year. Even amongst the organized chaos, Vice President Dale Parker sat down with AllOnGeorgia to share a little insight into the inner workings of the world-renowned legacy.
Claxton Fruit Cake was founded in 1910 by an Italian immigrant name Savino Tos. Tos immigrated to the United States in 1908 and after traveling via Ellis Island to New York City, he worked as a pastry baker. After a stint in the Big Apple, Tos moved to Macon and then on to Claxton while he was dating a girl in Savannah. Realizing that Claxton, being the small agricultural community it is and always has been, had no bakery, Tos opened his store.
Albert Parker, Dale’s father, began working for Tos in 1927 at the ripe age of 11. Tos told Albert if he could find an apron to fit, he could work. Albert rolled up the apron and got to work. He had been employed there nearly twenty years when Tos sold the business to Albert in 1945. But Albert recognized in the years following the Great Depression that the ‘old-time bakery’ would soon be overtaken by larger chains and grocery stores, so he made the decision to make only fruit cakes.
In 1945, Albert made 45,000 pounds of fruit cakes and sold them one truckload at time in Macon and Savannah. He did that until the early 1950’s when Claxton Fruit Cake partnered with Civitan service groups who used fruit cakes for fundraisers and services projects in the community. This was almost unheard of at that time, and the initiative grew slowly to reach 48 states, many of which still have Civitan partnerships today.
The company has evolved over the years, but the essence is still the same. Nowadays, you can order fruit cakes online, but that is not where the majority of the sales originate.
On a normal ‘busy season’ day, the bakery makes 86,000 pounds of fruit cake a day. Annually, a whopping 5 million pounds are made for stores and bakeries around the country. Dale says, “It’s all calorie-free. We don’t charge a dime for calories!”
Claxton Fruit Cake is a family affair, too. Dale runs the company with his brothers, Mid and Paul, and their sister Betty Smith. Dale’s sons, Will and Abe, work at the office as well as his niece, Paula Parker Claxton. They all had a seeming desire to work in the family business, and though Dale started his career at Georgia Southern in architecture, he quickly found himself gravitating back to the family business – just like every other family member. And now, while they all have their niche within the company, they have each worked in every capacity from the bottom up. Dale works specifically in sales, marketing, and product development while Mid and Paul focus on financials and purchasing. Not a single one of them had their arm twisted to stay in the family business.
Claxton Fruit Cake Co. is a pillar of the Evans County community – even the water tower reads “The Fruit Cake Capital of the World!,” and that is something the entire Parker family takes very seriously. The pride they have in what Albert built is at the forefront every day and beyond pride, the Parker’s feel a responsibility to the community. The entire business is very personal and they partner with schools and churches at almost any given opportunity. “You’re not supposed to keep it, you’re supposed to give back,” is a one of the live-by mantra’s of the Parkers.
Their advertising, which is mostly local, is based on word of mouth. It was not until a few years ago that Claxton gave into the offers of QVC. When Claxton Fruit Cake was celebrating their 100th anniversary, QVC suggested a hand-decorated Claxton Classic Supreme cake and it was a huge hit. In the seven minute segment, upwards of $100,000 of product was sold – and often times from first-time buyers. Now, the company is featured every year in December.
Many of the 100 employees are seasonal, but they return year after year. The former plant manager, who recently passed, worked at the factory for 60 years. The packaging manager and one of the administrative employees have both been employed with the company for over 50 years. The Parkers love calling Claxton home and the entire operation runs on the same city block it started on. The famous catalog? That is made in-house, too.
Recently, Claxton Fruit Cake has made the transition to become a certified Safe Quality Foods (SQF) company. As part of a global initiative by many large corporations, different standards have been put into place to protect the quality and purity of the food. The down side? Ten years ago, anyone off the street could stop in and tour the bakery, but as Dale says, “We live in a different time.” Even so, the Parker family strives to keep the originality and small-town feel wherever they can.
The busy season starts the day after Labor Day and runs through December 10th. But the deliciousness of the cakes and the wonderfulness of the Claxton Fruit Cake Family lasts all year.
If you would like to shop online, you can browse the catalog here.