Back in 1925, Erskine Early set up a small roadside stand by U.S. Highway 31 in Spring Hill. He started out by transporting honey straight from the hives to the little outdoor shop, capturing traffic that whizzed by on its way to the sunny beaches of Florida or back again up north. Slowly, Erskine grew the retail business to include smoked meats, jams, jellies and more—and flourished into a nationally known tourist destination and mail-order business.
Today, the gourmet Southern food and gift company can boast nearly 90 years of continuous operation—and just as many decades as a family-owned business. Franklin resident Curt Gibbs stepped in to take over the reigns in 2011; Erskine had passed away. To ensure that the legacy of unrivaled customer service would continue to underscore the store’s success, he placed his son Curtis in charge of the business.
“Our family is excited to continue to expound on the rich history that surrounds the company,” said Curtis, president of Early’s Honey Stand. “And now that that we’re in downtown Franklin, we’re looking forward to starting a new tradition in this community.”
Early’s opened its third retail location (the other two are in Spring Hill and Lebanon) at 209 E. Main Street last month, just in time for the upcoming holiday season. They’ll offer the same signature, Southern authentic foods in the circa 1815 brick building known as Dr. McPhail’s office, which has served as the Williamson County Convention & Visitors Bureau Visitor Center in recent years.
Curtis said the Gibbs family has long wanted to place Early’s roots in downtown Franklin, and that the location, coupled with the town’s spirit, seemed like the perfect time to test the Franklin waters.
“This area has always had a serious appreciation for its heritage and a devotion to the town’s legacy,” he said. “We think that sense of community really mixes well with our mission and the story behind the business.”
Curtis also runs Early’s mail-order operation, which has continued to distribute authentic Southern fare to customers all over the globe. Its has shipped off cheeses, country-cookin’ mixes and thick-sliced bacon to Supreme Court justices, Fortune 500 CEOs… even celebrities the likes of Elvis Presley, back in the day.
Though Curtis, who graduated from Battle Ground Academy, hadn’t had direct experience with the food industry before Early’s, he’s always been familiar with the company and its mission. He said the secret to Early’s steady profile over the years is its dedication to providing food just the way your great-great-grandmother made it.
“We take great pride in our product, because we know that we’re selling the very best. We’ve stayed true to what Erskine always intended this to be: a showcase for Southern food, cooked and created the old-fashioned way,” he said. “Our meats are smoked and cured through natural methods that have been used for hundreds of years. We never clarify or filter any of our honey.”
Curtis said that he’s particularly excited to form relationships with out-of-town visitors at the Main Street location, and that he’s already encountered guests from around the globe. In his spare time, he’s an avid cyclist and races vintage cars with Curt—the pair recently piloted a 1932 Ford Roadster across 19 cities as part of this summer’s Great Race—and said that his case of wanderlust makes him even more excited to connect with customers from all over.
“I enjoy hearing of other’s experiences and different cultures, even if the stories I’m hearing are only from a few states away,” Curtis said. “I’m also looking forward to giving visitors a couple of our—and downtown Franklin’s—trademarks: plenty of Southern hospitality and country-style, tried-and-true food.”
To learn about Curtis or the company, visit its location on Main Street or go to www.earlysgifts.com.
This is part of a series on merchants in Downtown Franklin.