HOUSTON - In Texas, few road trips are complete without a stop at a Buc-ee's convenience store. Over several decades, the chain has developed a reputation that elevates the "rest-stop" well beyond a fill-up and call-of-nature.
The sounds are familiar to Texas travelers:
'Beaver' Aplin says, "I had no idea that it would evolve into this."
He is the imagination behind Buc-ee's. From his first, relatively tiny store that opened in 1982, in Lake Jackson, Aplin and partner Don Wasek have steadily built a highway empire of dozens of locations, like the 55,000 square-foot Katy Buc-ee's, where row upon row of gasoline pumps and pristine restrooms are only the beginning for people on their way to someplace else.
Aplin shares his desire, "I want this to be part of their trip. I want them to decide they're going to stop at Buc-ees before they leave their home."
He is laser-focused on making sure Buc-ee's is a worthwhile destination, for travelers. He'll use buzz-words like "clean", "organized", and "friendly", but it's so much more than that, people come for the experience.
Customers tell FOX 26, "You walk through and you feel at home. You feel good about it and everything's warm and cozy and you just have to have it." "They're always really nice here, that's what makes me want to come here." "Of course, you know, the bathrooms are clean, and we always find little gifts and things that we like and then we like the snacks."
The drink and snack choices are beyond expansive, much of it freshly-made on-site.
Aplin explains, "They holler that out, 'fresh brisket on the board', every time when they bring a brisket out."
From a Texas-staple like smoked brisket, you can get it sliced or chopped, ready to go. Sandwiches, fresh fruit, treats, there's no excuse for going hungry here.
Walking towards the gift shop section Aplin says, "this is the fun part of the store, I guess." The curated collection of Texas tchotchkes, cooler, and Buc-ee's-themed apparel — the kind of stuff you didn't know you needed until you saw it sitting on the shelves.
All of it is delivered by a small army of Buc-ee's team members who are well-paid with benefits.
While Buc-ee's is clearly iconic in Texas, there are grand plans to move the brand outside the state. Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Georgia — they're all on the books. The real trick and the gamble, really, is trying to make sure all of this works "there".
Aplin says the challenge is, "Here, in Texas, they know and come to expect it and they hold us to a higher standard. In the other states, they won't know what to expect. But if we get 'em one time, then I suspect they will hold us to that standard like they do here in Texas. Then that'll be our job to maintain that standard."
And if the magic of this "rest stop theme park", as some have called it, can be replicated with a new generation of traveler, the lure of getting to a Buc-ee's will take you farther and farther down the road.