Oklahoma Needs a Buc-ee’s

Pop quiz: Which gas station / convenience store / travel stop is the best in Oklahoma?

You may have answered with an On-Cue, a Rudy’s, or one of those newer 7-Elevens. You may have also said QuikTrip, which seems like a good answer until you realize more than half of our state doesn’t have them.

Unfortunately, most of the gas stations around can best be described as fly-infested, shit-stained or mediocre-at-best. This can often leave travelers feeling like a gas station is nothing more than a necessary evil. But as I learned this past weekend, during a road trip to New Orleans, that doesn’t always have to be the case. There’s always a…

Yes, Buc-ee’s! The Texas-based super travel stops that serves as gas station gods.

Walking into a Buc-ee’s feels like pilfering through Mary Poppin’s bag — there’s everything you could want there. Biblical amounts of beef jerky? Got it. Western decor to make a Midwest mother proud? You bet. Enough snacks and trademark Beaver Nuggets to overfeed a small country? It’s Texas-sized for a reason, pal.

In case you were curious, these are beaver nuggets:

Remember cereal from your childhood? It’s basically this.

One of the hallmarks of a gas station stop is the bathroom visit. This is where all disease and odd smells meet a rogue pubic hair on a toilet rim. Not to mention the puddle of pee you have to step over and ignore. This is where my admiration turned into obsession.

These gargantuan bathrooms are where restrooms meet luxury. A large variety of well-spaced urinals wait along each wall of the men’s room, with enough sinks to wash sin away. The toilet stalls are fully enclosed with functioning locks. I’m not sure what the women’s restroom was like, but I can only assume it was like a giant she-shed filled with potpourri and lit by moonlight.

There are other things to like about Buc-ee’s. From what I’ve heard, employees’ wages begin at $13-$15 an hour. It then jumps to $20 and up…plus 40+ hour work week, 401K, healthcare and three weeks of paid time off.

So, why doesn’t Oklahoma have a Buc-ee’s? What’s wrong with venturing north of the Red River? It’s just an arbitrary border, right?

According to a well-titled feature article in Texas Monthly, I guess it has to do with supply chain economics and not wanting to be the next Whataburger:

In the eighties, Whataburger embarked on an aggressive expansion strategy outside Texas. The company added menu items like popcorn shrimp salads and steak sandwiches that it hoped would diversify its appeal. Instead, the company failed to catch on in locations including Las Vegas and Memphis, where residents greeted the arrival of new Whataburgers with little enthusiasm. “We got spread too thin,” one Whataburger executive told Texas Monthly in 2000. “People didn’t know who we were. We didn’t have that Texas heritage and Texas tradition to play off of.”

Whataburger eventually righted itself, partially by retrenching, but the lesson remains. Sometimes a business can expand beyond its appeal. Sometimes the magic that makes people identify emotionally with a profit-seeking enterprise can evaporate. Maybe the good people of Alabama and Florida will thrill to Buc-ee’s just as much as Texans do. Or maybe they’ll look at the Disney World of convenience stores and just see an oversized convenience store.

“Buc-ee’s kind of has that cachet of being a rare place, so if they expand too big, too quickly, they could lose some of that charm,” said Greg Lindenberg, an editor at convenience-store trade publication CSP Daily News. “I remember when you couldn’t get Coors beer and Krispy Kreme doughnuts [in a lot of places], and once you could get those things, you realized, ‘They’re okay, but I’m not sure what all the fuss was about.’ ”

To Arch Alpin III, the owner/ founder of Buc-ee’s, I would just like to say that the Oklahoma City metro has proudly supported Whataburger all these years and would likely do the same for Buc-ee’s—especially if it happened to be at a location just south of Norman. Once again, it’s not like we have a QuikTrip to turn to. We welcome a Buc-ee’s invasion in Oklahoma with open arms!