CLINE: Peddling peanuts off the beaten path

SUGAR HILL -- Situated on Suwanee Dam Road hard by Cumming Highway, the stand sits in the northwest corner of the county. But it seems to be located in another era, when roadside stands were the norm and national chains weren't so prevalent.

Prospective buyers must leave the paved road and park on the shoulder or in a field if they want to visit the stand, run by Royce Couch and Ron Reda. The Buford residents don't work for peanuts, but they do work at them. Boiled ones, that is.

The two men set up shop every Thursday through Sunday, selling the Southern delicacy in regular or Cajun flavor. They also sell bird houses, knickknacks and, depending on the time of the year, tomatoes and other fresh produce.

It's a way to stay busy, work at something they enjoy and engage people they wouldn't ordinarily meet. You never know who might pull off the road for a salty snack.

"We meet a lot of interesting people," Couch said. "I enjoy meeting people. It helps me to know there are people uglier and crazier than I am."

Couch, 58, makes patio furniture, swings and other custom designs. You can see his work on the opposite side of the road from where the peanut stand is set up, across Suwanee Dam Road. Though that work is steady, Couch is a character whose maladies are equal to his need to stay busy.

"I'm bipolar, a diabetic. Had open-heart surgery three times. Had a toe amputated," he said. "But I've got to have something to do to get out of the house. As long as you're doing something, you're not worrying about things."

Reda, 71, is the nearly silent partner. He nods a lot and lets Couch do the talking about the operation. They set up from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays and have done so for about six months. During the course of the weekend, they go through a 50-pound bag of dry peanuts, add water and salt and boil them for 12 hours.

The treats attract a lot of customers. Couch likes his about halfway done, while they still have some crunch in them. But most enjoy the boiled peanuts in their traditional state, soft and moist.

"If we go through 50 pounds in a day and a half -- that's a lot of peanuts," Couch said, adding that Sunday brings the most people.

Couch and Reda sit under a shade tree and a tent they bring, watching the traffic and chatting up customers who pull off the road for something a little different.

"We had some guys from Kentucky stop by who said they had never had boiled peanuts," Couch said. "I said, 'You mean to tell me you're from Kentucky -- the middle of redneck country -- and you've never had a boiled peanut?' I couldn't believe it. But I guess I never had a boiled peanut until I was a teenager."

Customers are sporadic, so Couch and Reda shoot the breeze while they hope for one to keep them cool. They tell stories and watch the cars go by, waiting for another boiled peanut lover who dares veer off the beaten path.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/toddcline.