How Fuel City Is Taking a Page From Disney's Parks

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How Fuel City Is Taking a Page From Disney's Parks

By Danielle Romano - 11/28/2017

HALTOM CITY, Texas — “Where dreams come true” is a phrase that has long been associated with Walt Disney World. However, it is Fuel City founder and CEO John Benda’s mission to take this adage and make it the standard for his travel centers across the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

For Benda, this mission started in the 1980s. At that time, he was operating a small grocery store and decided he wanted to make a memory for customers who visited so that they wouldn’t forget his brand.

After operating progressively bigger stores for 19 years, Benda held on to this mission as he built the first Fuel City “of his dreams” from the ground up in Dallas in December 1999. Following the flagship location, he opened a second travel center in Mesquite, Texas.

Today, the company’s third and most recent Fuel City travel center in Haltom City, Texas, carries out Benda’s mission to the “tenth degree.” The location is a continued extension of the founder and CEO’s personal task to create a place where customers, visitors and tourists alike can create a memory.

“It’s still in my gut to make it fun and make it entertaining,” he told Convenience Store News. “Although ‘Where dreams come true’ is known in Disney, we’re making it applicable for truck stops and convenience stores. It’s chic and fun, and we want people to create a positive memory and see the creation of positive dreams coming true when they visit a Fuel City location.”

zebra and camel at Fuel City

Spanning nearly 12,000 square feet, the Haltom City Fuel City opened Dec. 23, 2016, and stays true to its home-state roots. Coined as “Texas in a nutshell,” the travel center dons a Western theme — complete with a menagerie of farm animals like buffalo, zebras, camels and longhorns.

“Since we’re in Texas, I wanted people to see what the Dallas area looked like before it was a big metropolitan area. Before the hustle and bustle of the city, it was rolling pastures of farmland where longhorns and buffalo roamed,” Benda said. “It’s fun for families to see what parts of Texas looked like before they were big cities.”

Farm animals are an attraction at all three Fuel City locations. Even though obtaining a permit for them and the upkeep takes “tremendous” effort — costs range from $3,000 to $4,000 a month — Benda said it’s worth it because his customers love the animals.

Inside the store, the Western theme comes alive through the use of cedar wood and mounted animal heads on the walls, including longhorn, buffalo and other steers. Western music plays throughout the travel center, interrupted at times with advertisements about different features offered at the store. On Fridays, a country Western singer comes into the Haltom City store during lunchtime and performs live.

“I’m just trying to do things that are fun and different and that will bring people in the store,” Benda explained, noting that he does something similar at his Dallas flagship store with live karaoke.

Fuel City Tacos window

In addition to being known for its Western theme and free-ranging farm animals, Fuel City has built a strong following for its proprietary taco offering. The taqueria offers five varieties of tacos, quesadillas and burritos, including: beef fajita; chicken fajita; picadilla, which is ground beef with fresh diced potatoes; slow-roasted barbacoa; and pastor, a spicy pork.

All of the food made at the taqueria is prepared fresh onsite around the clock.

Providing a unique convenience to Haltom City’s taqueria are two pickup windows. The windows give customers the ability to order their taqueria fare from the front patio without having to come into the travel center. The windows remain open all night long. This gives customers the ability to enjoy the same fresh food at 3 in the morning that they would at 3 in the afternoon.

“I highly recommend doing a proprietary food [offering] that’s 24 hours to draw customers to you and develop brand loyalty,” Benda advised. “There’s not many places open late at night that are safe. So I think that if you have good food and you’re open late, it will catch on over time. It happened with us.”

For more on Fuel City, look in the November issue of Convenience Store News.