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Buc-ee's: It’s been called a freeway phenomenon, a temple of roadside junk food, and the Disney World of convenience stores. Pass through its glass doors and I swear you’ll hear angels sing as workers with Colgate-sparkly smiles welcome you to their fluorescent-lit promised land. There are so many devilish snacks, so many things you never knew you wanted (and definitely don’t need) but will buy anyway. Duck in for a Diet Coke, and walk out with a cowhide flask, pickled quail eggs, and beaver-faced fuzzy slippers. This is the mythos of Buc-ee's.
It wasn’t always like this. Buc-ee’s started out as a fairly ordinary gas station, founded in Clute, Texas, in 1982 by Don Wasek and Arch “Beaver” Aplin III. Still privately owned, its expansion has been slow and methodical. Over the past two decades, the chain has opened more than 50 locations throughout the south—with the majority concentrated in Texas—and built a reputation as an essential road trip stop.
“It’s not just a gas station—it’s an experience,” gasp its super fans in hashtagged posts on Instagram, where Buc-ee’s has nearly a quarter of a million followers. These convenience store congregants wear head-to-toe Buc-ee’s merchandise, top their wedding cakes with Buc-ee’s mascots, and get Buc-ee’s tattoos. It's a level of customer devotion that must drive the boardroom stiffs at Circle K and 7-Eleven crazy.
And I get it. Buc-ee’s is more of a travel center than a gas station, strategically placed between major cities at the exact moment that road trippers will need a break. Like a mirage in a cartoon desert, its appearance along a tedious stretch of interstate seems almost too good to be true. Pull off and pick one of its 7,298 parking spaces (all larger than average, to accommodate Texans’ titanic trucks), and drag your bleary-eyed, road-bedraggled corpse out of the car and into the store. Within seconds, your whole mood lifts because it’s impossible to cross that magical threshold and not be spellbound by the abundance of choice: fresh-baked kolaches and mountains of fudge, banana pudding and big-honkin’-brisket sandwiches, sugar-roasted pecans perfuming the air, and a house-made jerky bar with upward of a dozen dried meats on offer. Decorative taxidermied deer heads keep a watchful (glass) eye over the economy-sized bags of Combos and Corn Nuts, while towering displays push red Solo cups and table tennis balls, and shoppers make ill-advised decisions to purchase neon tank tops tutting “Y’all Done Lost Y’all Dang Minds.”