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Gary, the drive-through boiled peanut man
Peanut Man 1
Gary Draffin and his wife, Hope, in front of their drive-thru boiled peanut stand on Highway 1 just north of Elgin. Their business started in North Carolina. - photo by Salley McInerney

Gary Draffin leaned in from his black chair, a nondescript affair that scoots across the floor on little wheels.

“Now this is something only people in the South will understand. There are four stages of a boiled peanut addiction. The first stage is the first time you try ’em and you say, ‘Maybe I like those.’ The second stage is when you’re riding down the road and you see a boiled peanut shed and you slam on brakes and you say, ‘I’m gonna go back and get some.’ Stage Three is when you start searching the internet to learn how to make your own. The fourth stage is to get everybody else to support your habit. You start selling ’em to everybody else to support your addiction.”

Draffin laughed.

“I reckon the fifth stage is when you get your own peanut farm. I’m not there yet.”

He’s close, though.

Draffin’s fourth-stage addiction is situated on Highway 1, just north of the town of Elgin. His boiled peanut operation takes the traditional southern roadside set-up to a new level by way of a circular driveway that turns it into a goober drive-thru.

Customers simply pull off the road into his place via the gravel driveway, and stop underneath a black and white sign hanging off a sturdy shed.

“PLACE ORDER HERE” it says, waggling back and forth in an easy breeze.

“I wanted easy access for everybody,” Draffin said. “Usually, when you’re stopping at a boiled peanut stand, it’s hard to get in there and get your peanuts. We don’t want our customers having to get out of their cars because that slows things down. It’s about convenience. Folks love it.”

Draffin stood under the shed. He set his Polar Pop Styrofoam cup to one side and readjusted his straw hat, a purchase from Tractor Supply Company. He stirred some peanuts in one of four 80-quart pots.

He talked about where he grew up, near Dutch Square Mall in Columbia. “They put Dutch Square in my backyard.”

He talked about God. “He tells me things.”

And, he talked about how he got into the boiled peanut business, which is a full-time deal these days.

“I kept having this recurring dream that I was standing on a highway and there was a whole line of people coming toward me. I was feeding them something, but in the dream, I couldn’t tell what I was feeding them.

“Then I found four Coleman pots in a box so I bought ’em and brought ’em home. I kept praying on ’em. Then I was boiling peanuts in a crock pot when it hit me. I emailed my friend who is a prophet and he said, ‘Go for it.’”

Draffin and his wife, Hope, were living in North Carolina at the time; Draffin set up a boiled peanut stand at a marina on Lake Glenville.

“I set up next to a lady with a hot dog stand. I sold out of my peanuts in three hours and away we went from that point on.”

The Draffins moved back to Columbia in 2016; Hope wanted to be closer to her grandchildren.

“I told Hope, ‘If you can find a house in Columbia where we can sell peanuts in the front yard, I’ll move back.’”

She found it on Highway 1 -- an unassuming two-story brick and wood-paneled home with the perfect driveway for a drive-thru.

“We can’t stand the house,” Draffin said, laughing, “but we bought it for the driveway.”

Draffin stirred the steaming peanuts a few more times and put the lid back on the pot.

He looked around the shed area.

“We call this area ‘The Pocket’. It’s where we sell everything.”

“Everything” includes boiled and roasted peanuts, produce, popcorn and sodas.

“We got the coldest soda in Elgin. A while back, I bought a machine called Artic Coke for $40. It turns your Coke into a slushy.”

Draffin sells 100 to 150 pounds of peanuts during a weekend.

“Boiling peanuts is like watching a baby. I got a Bluetooth thermometer that hooks up to my iPhone and my iPad. We start cooking on Wednesday morning and we open at 11 a.m. on Thursday morning. On Sunday night, we shut it down. I get very little sleep until then. Monday is our day off.”

Draffin’s blue eyes twinkled.

“The reason I do all this is because it makes me happy to see other people happy. People like boiled peanuts and they like my drive-thru. Especially if they got kids in the car. They can just drive through, get what they want without having to get out, and they are happy.”

(Share story ideas with McInerney by emailing her at salley.mac@gmail.com.)