Story and photos by Jennifer Kornegay
The pecan is an exceedingly Southern food and an absolutely Alabama one too, resulting in the strong regional flavor that Camden’s Pecan on Broad, a specialty market and restaurant that opened in 2019, evokes simply with its name.
The moniker is also rooted in reality. Part of its building was a pecan business in a former life, and it fronts Broad Street, the main thoroughfare in the small town’s downtown. But this spot is much more than either the literal or figurative aspects of its brand.
For starters, it’s packed with an array of offerings. Shelves are heavy with sauces, spices, jams and relishes. Tables are stacked with candles, glassware and pottery. The cold case is laden with casseroles, soups and cakes. A chalkboard announces the day’s multiple ice cream options. The old vault in the side of the building that was once a bank now holds bottles of wine instead of bills.
When Ryan Dunagan and Chris Bailey came to visit a friend in Camden a few years ago, the surrounding countryside’s rustic beauty and the town’s laidback vibe instantly earned their affections. Then, the historic-home and antiquing enthusiasts bought Riverbend, a circa 1840 house in Camden, and began restoring and reviving the structure, while still living in Mobile. Soon, weekends turned into weeks, and they decided to make the move permanent.
“Once we knew Camden was our new home, we wanted to do something beneficial for the entire community, and that sparked the idea for Pecan on Broad,” Bailey said.
In keeping with their love of old things, both are into small-town downtowns, and they quickly noticed that Camden’s was lacking life. They also noted that Camden already had visitors, mostly outdoorsmen. “We realized they could bring their families with them, except there wasn’t much else to do,” Dunagan says.
Enter Pecan on Broad with its food products, home-décor and gift items, plus a restaurant serving some Southern classics but also selections less-common to rural towns. They hoped residents would enjoy it all often, and that as news spread, it would draw more — and more diverse — visitors to Camden.
It worked so well, the success came as a surprise. “We knew we were filling a void,” Dunagan says. “And we wanted it to be a springboard for further development downtown, but when we realized we really were bringing people from outside the area, we were kinda shocked.” And the big win: Other businesses are seeing more people too.
People have driven more than an hour for Pecan on Broad’s Saturday brunch, where they feast on savory brisket and grits or French toast casserole and candied Conecuh sausage. At lunchtime, you’ll find all ages tucking into chicken salad (generous amounts of shredded rotisserie chicken seasoned simply); broccoli salad (florets with pecans, red onion and tart dried cranberries); daily specials, including meat ’n’ three favorites; and hearty soups with gooey grilled pimento cheese on the side.
Dunagan is the kitchen wiz half of the team. While he has no official culinary background, he relishes cooking and learned from his dad, who made most of the meals in his family. He makes everything in-house but hired a local lady for the sweets. “Our signature dessert is the hummingbird cake, and of course, we do pecan pie,” he says.
He’s particularly proud of his take on pimento cheese, of which they sell “a ton.” “I go lighter on the mayo and use cream cheese too, plus some jalapeno peppers,” he said. There’s almost always a steady flow of folks popping in to grab items from the cold case, including that prized pimento cheese, as well as casseroles, take-and-bake pizzas, soups, cinnamon rolls, plus a wide range of meats.
Dunagan has also employed skills from his interior design career, which is ongoing, to create Pecan on Broad’s sophisticated yet comfortable style, which called for keeping as much of the original building intact as was possible.
Whether they come to Pecan on Broad for a double scoop of Creole praline ice cream, some fancy mustard, a chicken pot pie or a whimsical tea towel, when they leave, everyone walks under “Y’all come back!” painted on the wall above the door. With so much in one spot that’s underpinned with a true “you all” mindset, chances are good most folks will RSVP “yes” to that invitation.
Pecan on Broad
110 Broad Street, Camden, AL 36736
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Friday
10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday
Left, The Pecan co-owner, Ryan Dunagan.