The Lone Star State possesses the perfect environment for gas-station innovation. With 675,580 total road miles, it leads the nation in black top (California ranks a distant second with a paltry 394,608), providing a captive audience willing to support exit-ramp excellence.
Its humongous size cultivates a cramped-averse population who possess a skewed sense of proportion (read: we expect a lot of space, and all our beverages arrive super-sized). Finally, our history as ranchers and cowboys means we adore pick-up trucks (about 4.2 million of them by some accounts). As anyone lucky enough to own one of these vehicles knows, that great expanse of cab and flatbed invites a driver to carry lots of stuff, engage with the outdoors, and fill up frequently (both the driver's and the vehicle's tanks).
Those attributes inform and explain the appeal of Buc-ee's, the state's cult gas station known for big bathrooms, rows and rows of pump stations, unending beverage and snacks options, and shelves of goofy T-shirts, outdoor gear, and all things Texana.
Co-founders Don Wasek and Arch "Beaver" Alpin opened the first store in 1982 in Lake Jackson. Alpin gets the credit for the store's mascot and name, which he created by combining his childhood nickname and the name of his Labrador retriever, Buck. (Only in Texas would a dog and a nickname play critical roles in a successful store's origins story). Now the 33 stores (and counting!) dot the state's busiest highways, and the first out-of-state Buc-ee's stores are set to open in Alabama and Florida.
As a sixth-generation Texan, I've made many trips to the big beaver in the sky, and my Buc-ee's T-shirt earns me smiles and fellow-fan comments in New York, where I now live, and once in Canada. On a hot Texas day, which, for the record, is every day, these friendly, fast, football-field sized operations built for the impatient and the parched serve as an irresistible siren song for any road warrior.
Here are 12 reasons why Buc-ee's deserves destination status on your next trip in or around the great state of Texas.
1. The bathrooms are clean, private, and plentiful.
Expect clean, spacious facilities that offer privacy, including a substantial lock on each stall that notifies other customers if it's occupied or vacant and floor-to-ceiling tile that creates a sanctuary of solitude for each customer. But more importantly, unless you arrive with an entourage of 40, you will never, ever, ever be forced to wait for relief. Many locations feature as many as 38 stalls, and men enjoy up to 33 urinals. Employees clean the cavernous bathrooms hourly and with militaristic dedication.
2. The gas pumps are also plentiful.
With 80 to 120 fueling positions, you'll also never wait to fill up. And despite store locations that break records for size (68,000 square feet at the New Braunfels store), you won't need to rodeo around a big rig crossing your path — no 18-wheelers are allowed.
3. The chain has a sense of humor.
The chain capitalizes on its cartoonish mascot (a beloved, buck-toothed beaver), favorite food offerings, and clean-bathroom reputation with chuckle-inducing billboards that blanket the countryside and announce an upcoming store 75 miles out. A few faves: "Clean Restrooms, We Guaranpee It," "Ice, Beer, Jerky: The 3 Food Groups," and "No Dancing the Two-Step in Our Restroom."
4. You can buy handmade fudge and Beaver Nuggets!
Stores feature as many as 24 different types of handmade fudge — from classics such as chocolate peanut butter, rocky road, and chocolate mint to sugar-free options and experimental flavors such as chocolate pumpkin and watermelon. Each store features an area devoted solely to this treat, and fudge workers gladly offer samples for the tasting. You can also purchase sampler boxes. If your sweet cravings lean to the crunchy, you might want to try the beloved Beaver Nuggets, popped corn puffs covered in layers of caramel, butter, and sugar.
5. You can load up on car-centric amenities.
Buc-ee's honors Texans' love of the road with amenities and features that allow them to care for their vehicles. Stores sell legendary car fresheners known for the effectiveness and for their interesting scents ("man cave" and "cherry leather") that come in a variety of shapes, including the shape of Texas. The Katy Buc-ee's, which cost $17 million to build, earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for longest car wash, which spans 225 feet long, takes about five minutes to pass through, can accommodate about 1,500 cars a day, and features a moving, illuminated beaver that travels across your windshield as you exit. There's also a bank of vacuum stalls, free bug-removal stations, and a high-end air machine that eliminates the guesswork and the tire gauge.
6. There are meats aplenty.
Stores offer both a jerky counter and a wall of packaged jerky in flavors that include peppered, garlic (one of the most popular), mild, hot, fajita seasoning, and jerky seasoned with Hatch chilies. There's also summer sausage, snack sticks, and barbecue, which you grab at the Texas Round-up Area as men in denim aprons and cowboy hats slice the brisket you are about to eat. You also can buy a smoker; a selection of woods, rubs and sauces; and an Aaron Franklin cookbook if you'd like to try your hand at the smoky arts.
7. There are great photo ops and props.
Buc-ee's devotees love a chance to snap a pic with the mascot, and stores feature a large, bronze-colored statue just for that purpose. Every store carries numerous T-shirts, pajama bottoms, sweatshirts, bumper stickers, mugs, and decorations that pay tribute to the lovable beaver.
8. You can do all sorts of flavor customizations.
Buc-ee's understands the desire to customize a beverage. Customers can add squirts of cherry, lime, lemon, and vanilla to sodas or a range of syrups for coffees. Please note that the soda fountain offers no "small" size drink option.
9. The stores are loaded with Texas favorites.
From Willie Nelson T-shirts and Texas wine and beer, to CD displays that feature only Texan musicians and waffle irons in the shape of the state, stores offer many edible and wearable tributes to the Lone Star State as well as local specialties such as mayhaw jelly, candied jalapeños, quail eggs, and Berdoll pecans. Stores also sell items that reflect outdoor activities of the area. At the New Braunfels location, known for the cold springs that run through the city, you'll find river-floatin' supplies. Others feature hunting and fishing gear.
10. The stores rival actual candy stores.
Wall of happiness. That's how I once heard a customer describe the gauntlet of candy, taffy, trail mixes, and snacks. There's every shape, size, and color of gummy treat, and a section devoted to old-school candies such as wax bottles, Chick-O-Sticks, and Boston Baked Beans.
11. The employees are just so helpful!
Expect to be greeted when you walk in the door, and if you linger too long at a counter, you'll be offered a sample of something. Computer kiosks facilitate swift and organized service and allow customers to order sandwiches such as a pastrami reuben served on a buttery pretzel bun, piled high with pastrami, crispy onion rings, and sauerkraut.
12. The parking lots are more of a gathering place.
Despite the sandwiches, humongous beverages, and snacks extraordinaire, you won't find a single picnic-table or diner booth to sit at to consume your purchased edibles. (That's why tailgates were invented.) You'll see suited business people and construction workers popping in for a bite or a colossal cola to manhandle in the car on the way to the next meeting or job site. But the lack of seating won't hinder people from lingering. Expect to find the football-sized parking lot filled with travelers regrouping, friends visiting, families hanging out, and maybe a couple napping before they continue on to El Paso.
Have you been to Buc-ee's? Anything else worth pointing out?