When alumnus Brett Smith returned to Lane Stadium for the Boston College game last month, he wasn’t just there to root for his beloved Hokies. He wanted to be there to cheer on his family’s legacy.
This year, Smith’s family company — Whitley’s Peanut Factory – became the preferred vendor of peanuts for Virginia Tech Athletics. For Smith, peanuts are as much a part of his family as is Virginia Tech.
“Virginia Tech has been a part of the Smith family for over six decades, so when we had the opportunity to work with Virginia Tech Athletics on partnering for concession offerings, it was a no-brainer,” said Smith, who earned his degree in agribusiness in 2019 from the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “It’s an unbelievably cool experience for us, and we can’t wait to share our products with all of Hokie Nation.”
The third-generation owners and third-generation Hokies delivered cases of peanuts just in time for the first home football game. Fans can enjoy Whitley’s salted or honey-roasted peanuts at concession stands in Lane Stadium as well as at Cassell Coliseum and Atlantic Union Bank Baseball Park.
“We are proud to have brought this partnership into the athletics family. It will be a wonderful addition to the game-day experience for the Hokie Nation,” said Kyler Pilling, general manager of LEARFIELD Virginia Tech Sports Properties, which secured the relationship on behalf of the university. “We hope it will become a tradition to be watching a Hokies event and enjoying Whitley’s peanuts.”
Some people may not know that Virginia’s peanuts are grown in southeastern Virginia’s sandy soil, where the climate is ideal. Because of their large kernels, Virginia peanuts have acquired the reputation of being the “Cadillac” of peanuts.
Peanuts have been a big part of the Smith family’s everyday life for decades. Smith’s grandfather, Marion Smith ’64, who earned a bachelor’s degree in education in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, was a founding member and first president of the Bank of Franklin. In 1974, he was asked by Marvin Whitley, who was a member of the bank’s board of directors, to join him in a shelling operation partnership known as the Whitley Peanut Company.
Marion would cook small batches of peanuts from the shelling operation in his home during his spare time. Realizing the potential the product had, he decided to take it to the next level. Marion and his son Craig ’84, who earned a bachelor’s degree in finance in Pamplin College of Business, opened Whitley’s Peanut Factory in Gloucester, Virginia, in 1986. Brett’s father, Todd Smith ’89, who earned a bachelor’s degree in hotel, restaurant, and institutional management — now called hospitality and tourism management — from Pamplin College of Business, joined the family-owned business in 1990.
Additional Hokies in the family include Brett’s mother, Kristen ’90, who received a bachelor’s degree in hotel, restaurant, and institutional management, and sister, Bridgette, who is a student majoring in human development in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.
Today the family has retail locations in Williamsburg and Richmond in addition to the original store in Hayes, Virginia, where there is also a production facility and warehousing space. Raw peanuts arrive in 2,200-pound totes by the truckload from Birdsong Peanuts. Then they are cooked, dried, and seasoned before packaging.
In 2021, Whitley’s celebrated 35 years in business. With up to 90 employees during the holiday season, Todd, the company president, said the reason for their success is the “quality of the products, great employees, and our loyal customer following.”