How Buc-ee's Became the Most Popular Convenience Store in Texas
Hard to beat.
No road trip through Texas is complete without Beaver Nuggets and Dr Pepper Icees, which of course can only be picked up at a Buc-ee’s. The sprawling chain of gas stations/convenience stores/mega marts that boast about having the best kolaches, tasty barbecue, and cleanest restrooms in the country, is a fixture in the South. Here’s where the gas station empire started by Arch Aplin III began.
Aplin’s grandparents, Arch and Mae Aplin, owned and ran a general mercantile and gas station they dubbed the Biggest Little Store in Catahoula Parish in Harrisonburg in central Louisiana. While their son, Arch Jr., went into construction in Texas, their grandson Arch III clearly had inherited the family entrepreneurial streak and convenience store bug.
After spending summers pumping gas and working at his grandparents’ shop, when he spied an empty lot in Lake Jackson, Texas, he knew just what he wanted to do with it. In 1982, he opened a 3,000-square foot store at 899 Oyster Creek Drive on the border of Clute and Lake Jackson, according to Texas Monthly, who recently published a look back at the chain’s early days. Inspired by his longtime nickname, Beaver, and his beloved Lab, Buck, he named the store Buc-ee’s with a cartoon beaver as its mascot.
The store is still there, by the way, a landmark to Aplin’s mission, because from the moment when the store first opened its doors, Aplin already had big plans for the store’s future, telling the local paper that a chain of Buc-ee’s might be next.
Soon enough Buc-ee’s was growing, although it took a while and a new partner, Don Wasek, to help them do it. According to the Houston Chronicle, Aplin and Wasek knew what customers wanted—cheap ice and clean restrooms—and that’s what they focused on as they spread across Texas. The second Buc-ee’s opened in 1985, with the same clean restrooms and cheap ice, but a bigger footprint (6,000 square feet) and the first on-site kitchen offering sandwiches, breakfast tacos, and doughnuts. It just took off from there, opening 20 stores across Brazoria County during its first two decades. As they grew they added new, innovative features. As Texas Monthly reports, in 1989 they started selling clothing and fishing gear at their Buc-ee’s Beach Store, in Freeport, and started hosting live music in 1991 at their Lake Jackson icehouse, Uncle Buck’s. Buc-ee’s also is adamantly not a truck stop.
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It was in 2003 that Buc-ee’s became the Buc-ee’s that we all know and love, though. That was when they opened their Luling, Texas, outpost, just off the interstate. It offered barbecue sandwiches, Buc-ee’s-branded T-shirts, and Beaver Nuggets, and was absolutely massive and still growing. In 2006, it spread to 17,000 square feet and in 2009, it nearly doubled in size again, going from a convenience store to a roadside attraction. Now, Buc-ee’s has 34 stores total and the self-proclaimed “Disney of convenience stores” has crossed state lines for the first time with its store in Baldwin County, Alabama, a giant 50,000 square foot store off I-10. They plan to open several stores in Florida, too.
While Buc-ee’s still boasts about having the Cleanest Restrooms in America (seriously, it’s on their website), they have plenty of other ways to lure drivers off the road. They have freshly-roasted nuts that fill the stores with their alluring aroma, offer Icee flavors like Dr Pepper and Big Red that no one else seems to be able to get, a jaw-droppingly large fountain soda bar, fresh fudge, home décor, and all the Aggie gear you need to support Texas A&M. Then there are the Beaver Nuggets, addicting bites of caramel, sugar, and butter-coated corn puffs.
They sell 13 varieties of fresh jerky and even more versions of kolaches, that Texas by way of Czechoslovakia baked treats. They sell their own trademarked surfboard, named the Buc-ee Board, and have a BBQ counter, called the Texas Round Up, that offers some of the brisket, sliced sausage, turkey, and fresh-to-order sandwiches around.
Buc-ee’s loves its employees, and it pays them well. And it loves its customers, offering them everything a traveler could need or want for a fair price. In return, people really, really love Buc-ee’s. As Texas Monthly notes, when they opened a 68,000-square foot outpost in New Braunfels, Texas, in 2012, 10,000 people came to shop on the first day. Good thing it is the largest convenience store in the entire world—until Buc-ee’s tops itself as they undoubtedly will do.