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Brisket, Beaver Nuggets and more: Crowds turn out for Buc-ee’s grand opening

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Springfield’s Buc-ee’s travel center – the first in the state and one of the northernmost stores in the Lake Jackson, Texas-based chain – opened just before 6 a.m. on Dec. 11 for the first time.

An estimated 175 customers were lined up outside, some having camped out since 11 p.m. the night before, according to Josh Smith, director of operations from the store’s Atlanta office.

With an approach that included all-hands-on-deck staffing and additional help brought in from out of town, most of the store’s first customers experienced little or no waiting at registers or food service areas inside the 53,000-square-foot store, built at a cost of $60 million, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

However, by the time the travel center hosted local officials for an 11 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony, the customer count had amped up significantly, with an overflowing parking lot and a long line to the barbecue brisket counter snaking through the store’s interior.

Outside the store, 100 pumps stand to serve cars only – tractor-trailers are not permitted on the premises. The company estimates $30 million in annual taxable sales, not counting gasoline, according to the city of Springfield.

Smith said a staff of 230 had been training for 27 days.

He said it wasn’t hard to find people to work at the store, with pay starting at $18 an hour.

“We try to fill internally from around the company, but we have hired several external managers,” he said.

A sign outside the store boasted weekly pay for all positions, with benefits including a 100% match of up to 6% on a 401(k) retirement plan, three weeks’ paid time off to be used, rolled or cashed out annually, as well as medical insurance. A $2 per hour shift differential was offered for overnight workers.

Hourly wages begin at $18 for most workers, $20 for the restroom crew, $21 for food service and car wash, $20-$23 for team lead, $25-$33 for department manager and $33-$42 for assistant food service manager. Upper management salaries range from assistant general manager at $100,000-$150,000 to general manager, $150,000-$225,000.

Former farm field
SBJ previously reported Springfield City Council in June 2022 approved the establishment of the Cottle’s Range Community Improvement District for the Buc-ee’s project. Businesses in the 36-acre district can impose a 0.625% sales and use tax to reimburse Buc-ee’s up to $5.1 million for road and utility improvements for up to 20 years.

The tax incentives allowed Buc-ee’s to foot the initial bill for extending infrastructure improvements to the north side of Interstate 44, an area that was previously farmland.

Council also approved a $4.1 million tax increment financing agreement for the travel center.

“There’s approximately 1,000 acres that are now open for development,” said Amanda Ohlensehlen, Springfield’s director of Economic Vitality, in an interview following the ribbon-cutting event. “Buc-ee’s is truly a case study on attracting complementary development. We expect that things will start to change in the coming years along this I-44 corridor location.”

One of the first new businesses, a recreational vehicle park with space for some 35 vehicles, proposed for an empty field just north of Buc-ee’s, is up for approval at the Jan. 8 meeting of Springfield City Council.

Ohlensehlen said she could not comment on some of the feelers her office has fielded.

“Obviously, the infrastructure improvements, the transportation improvements and the extension of utilities make this a prime area for potential retail or hospitality type development,” she said.

Now, with three-phase power, water and sewer, the site has everything a large commercial development might need, she said.

“Everything’s ready,” she said.

In his comments at the ribbon-cutting, Mayor Ken McClure said he was very pleased.

“I have not heard any more excitement over the last several weeks and indeed months than I have about Buc-ee’s coming to Springfield, and that said so much,” he said. “What Buc-ee’s brings is exactly what we are about in Springfield: quality of place and economic vitality.”

Councilmember Abe McGull, whose Zone 2 is now home to Buc-ee’s, also extended a welcome, pointing to a billboard, visible along the interstate, offering $18-$23 an hour in starting pay.

“I can’t tell you how thrilling that is,” he said. “I’m a lawyer, and I’m thinking about getting a part-time job here.”

It’s personal
Speaking after the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Buc-ee’s President Arch “Beaver” Aplin III said the convenience store he founded exceeded all his expectations. Though the privately owned growing chain with 47 locations in eight states has become big business, he said it still feels personal to him.

“It’s still kind of amazing to me that this many people would come out to see what we do and to enjoy and participate in it,” he said. “When you break it right down, we’re in the convenience store business, and I’m pretty proud of that.”

Aplin said it’s difficult for most retail businesses to offer the level of pay Buc-ee’s does.

“I don’t know how much of a business decision it is, as we feel it’s just the right thing to do,” he said. “We’re small, we’re private and we don’t have shareholders, and so our goal is not to maximize profits. It’s to make a good, fair profit but to provide opportunities for people and the community. That’s what we like to do.”

Aplin, who lives 700 miles south of Springfield in Lake Jackson, near Houston, Texas, said coming to store openings is one of his favorite things to do.

“I really, really enjoy that,” he said, noting he met several people who had driven several hundred miles to attend the Springfield opening.

Something new: Grab-and-go
Matt Sheffield, director of food operations, pointed out some of the standard features of a Buc-ee’s travel center, like the barbecue brisket station, the large wall of jerky and the fudge counter.

Another popular offering is Beaver Nuggets – caramel-coated popcorn.

Special to the Springfield store is a grab-and-go area, Sheffield said.

“This is the first store to have this new setup,” he said, adding, “We’re moving full forward with it.”

Sheffield said the local employees did very well with training.

“Our trainers have had nothing but great things to say about them, and it’s been a very smooth training process and opening,” he said.

Also present for the opening from Buc-ee’s test kitchen in Houston was Jim Mills, who is the company’s culinary director.

Mills said 27 days is enough time to learn how to prepare food, but not quite enough to learn it at volume.

“Today is the theory and practice, right? So, we know that we’re going to lose some people because most of them have not ever worked in food service that has this much volume,” he said. “That’s just something that we’ve learned.”

Mills said as culinary director for Buc-ee’s, one of his main areas of focus is on quality.

“If you go into a Buc-ee’s, every salad was made in this store, every piece of fruit was cut in this store, every sandwich was made in this store, every baked good was baked in this store.”

Mills said everyone who works at Buc-ee’s is pointed toward the outcome of consistency.

“We believe quality is really what sets us apart,” he said.

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