Cane River Pecan Company has long been a go-to source for corporate holiday gifts, but the 50-year-old New Iberia operation is often overlooked by Acadiana residents outside of the business world.

That's because the pecan company only recently began marketing to individual consumers.

"We're starting to venture out and do specialty products," said second-generation owner Jady Regard. "We have a national footprint, so it's not something we necessarily have to do. It's just fun to constantly come up with new things."

The company recently began selling a pecan pie filled with boudin and sweet potato soufflé, a pecan king cake and a bourbon pecan ball. Specialty items like these are what Regard showcases in the 23,000-square-foot storefront that opened in downtown New Iberia late last year.

Regard, who refers to himself as the "chief nut officer" of Cane River Pecan, has infused his personality into the business his parents started in 1969. His creativity will be on full display during the inaugural pecan pie festival he plans to host in November at his downtown New Iberia shop.

Une Fête des Pacanes is set to happen from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 23 at Cane River Pecan Company, 254 W. Main St. in downtown New Iberia.

It will showcase all things pecan — from themed eating and baking contests to themed bingo and poetry readings — as a way to commemorate 50 years of his family's business.

"I've been wanting to do pecan poetry forever," Regard said. "We'll be offering cash prizes for the best pecan haikus."

The celebration will be free to attend and will include children's activities and music. It will serve as a way to celebrate the company's 50th anniversary.

Cane River Pecan Company started out as a wholesale pecan operation in 1969.

Its namesake comes from the river that flows through the 2,000 acres of pecan orchards Regard's family once owned in Natchitoches Parish. The company shifted into a business-to-business operation in the early 1980s.

"My dad had a really big, beautiful crop one year," Regard said. "He thought he was going to make a lot that year, but he didn't anticipate that everyone else would have the same situation. The price plummeted because the demand was low."

That's when his parents sent their harvest to a sheller in Mississippi and sold the pecans as corporate gifts. Eventually, they added roasted, chocolate-covered, praline and honey-glazed varieties of pecans to their gift boxes. 

Regard grew up working in his family's business but took a 13-year hiatus to work in pro sports. Soon after his father's death in 2001, Regard left his position in sales with the Chicago Bears organization to return to Acadiana and take over the company.

"I just saw the opportunity to come home," Regard said. "Working for myself was attractive, and returning to Louisiana was very attractive to me. It was the best decision I ever made."

The company's sales were at about $180,000 per year when he returned home in the early 2000s. Now, through Regard's vision and the company's online presence, sales are at about $3 to $5 million per year.

It's something Regard's 77-year-old mother never expected to see.

"She loves it," Regard said. "It's much bigger than she ever thought it would be. Cane River Pecan Company is a good brand. I think we've really made a mark here in the state of Louisiana, and we're really proud of that."

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