Should you be making a road trip to Knoxville, Gatlinburg, Dollywood or the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this summer or fall, there’s a must-stop, rest stop along the beaten path known as Interstate 40.
Take Exit 320 in Crossville and look immediately to your right and you will spy a humongous travel center that must be seen, inside and out, to be believed.
Welcome to Buc-ee’s, which lays claim to being home of the world’s cleanest bathrooms, freshest food and friendliest beaver. The Crossville location is the Texas corporation’s 44th travel center and the first in Tennessee, which is set to make its debut Monday, June 27.
You should find a lot to like here and will be relieved at the sight of their pristine restrooms. The Crossville store has 27 stalls on the women’s side and 16 stalls and 13 urinals on the men’s side.
Also, near the top of the list of what’s convenient at this convenience store are its 120 fueling stations (gas pumps). Count ’em. Each station presents five options of fuel for your gas-guzzling chariot: unleaded, mid-grad, premium, ethanol-free and diesel. And there’s another bonus. Sorry truckers (and we do appreciate you kings and queens of the road), but no 18-wheelers can fuel up here.
As for the eats, well, be prepared for more options than you can shake a road map at (hmm, does anyone use a map anymore?).
Among hundreds of foods, snack and beverage options, Buc-ee’s favorites feature brisket sandwiches, 21 flavors of homemade fudge, fresh pastries (Buc-ee’s Paddle Tail looks much like a cinnamon bun), kolaches, Beaver nuggets, 22 flavors of jerky (to be found on the Jerky Wall of Fame) and assorted candies and munchies.
Beverage-wise, Buc-ee’s is known for its cup of joe that sells at $1.59 for a large cup. It offers regular, dark roast and decaf coffees, and you can choose from a wide selection of flavorings. It also has 80 varieties of soft drinks, so you may want junior to take a second trip to the restroom before you depart.
Buc-ee’s brand is born
So, what’s the deal with the Buc-ee Beaver, whose logo can be seen perched high above the store, on every gas pump and on hundreds of Buc-ee branded items inside?
That goes back to Texas entrepreneur Arch “Beaver” Aplin, who founded Buc-ee’s in Lake Jackson, Texas, in 1982. He and business partner Don Wasek debuted their first store with an emphasis on clean bathrooms and cheap ice.
Aplin as a kid picked up the nickname of Beaver. Later one of his father’s workmates dubbed him Bucky Beaver, and that’s where the name of the store and the cartoon Beaver logo originated.
“Beaver” Aplin pretty much proved to be a prophet with some of the remarks he shared with the “Brazosport Facts” on that first store’s opening day.
“I think you’ll see it’s the nicest, prettiest store around. It’s very sharp looking. I believe everyone who comes in will be in awe over the way it looks. … If this one goes like we hope it will, you never can tell, we might have a chain of Buc-ee’s.”
That was 40 years ago, when gas sold for $1.22 a gallon, but let’s not get into politics.
Today there are 35 Buc-ee’s across Texas, including the world’s largest convenience store in New Braunfels. The travel center expanded to other states in 2019 and now has two stores in Alabama, two in Florida and two in Georgia. They recently opened stores in Richmond, Ky., and Florence, S.C., and broke ground for a Colorado location this month.
Hitting close to home, Buc-ee’s is constructing its second store in the Volunteer State in Sevierville. It will be located at Exit 407 exit off Interstate-40 and at 74,000 square feet will become the world’s largest convenience store when it opens in early fall.
Even closer to home, Murfreesboro seems to be on the path to being next in the state to get a Buc-ee’s, which may be located off Interstate 24 at Joe B. Jackson Parkway.
Rest stop shopping
As for the man this side of the Mississippi who likely knows most about Buc-ee’s that would be Josh Smith, director of operations Southeast. A 10-year veteran of the travel center, he has helped open 21 of the company’s 44 stores including every one outside of Texas. A native of Abilene, Texas, he has been to every location and lately has been busy going back and forth from Crossville to Sevierville keeping things on track.
Asked why Crossville was selected as the first Tennessee site, Smith answered, “The name Crossville says it all. You have to pass this Buc-ee’s if you’re going from Nashville to Knoxville. It’s an easy on and easy off. One of the things the owner says is that ‘life’s too short to go where people don’t want you.’ Crossville welcomed us with open arms.”
He described the Buc-ee’s’ experience, saying, “When you walk in the door for the first time, you’re gonna be hit by sensory overload: sights and smells like the savory brisket and homemade fudge. Everything is baked here.
“We put our people first. We’re a fun place and a great environment. We pay well and our expectations are high. If you stop at one of our stores, we’re going to do everything we can to make it a great shopping experience. We’ll answer your questions and thank you when you leave. Any person traveling with you is going to find something to suit their needs, and it’s a safe, family-friendly environment.”
The store in Crossville (population 11,000) employs about 200 people, 95 percent of them full time. It has five departments: cashier, warehouse, food stations, maintenance and gifts.
In the center of the brightly lit store is the fudge-making operation and the Texas Round Up, where the BBQ is prepared.
“The Texas Round Up is our bread and butter. It’s a spectator sport. You can watch them put the briskets on the board (chopping block),” Smith said of the main ingredient in the Buc-ee’s Brisket Sandwich.
There are hundreds of items with the Buc-ee Beaver logo on them in the Bucky’s World section. There are too many to count but shorts, shirts, shoes, toys, pet toys, small footballs, drink mugs, flip flops and lip balms make up a small sampling
The travel center has received numerous honors in recent years. “Bon Appétit” named Buc-ee’s America’s Best Rest Stop in 2016 in honor of its food, and Gas Buddy, a fuel-price app, named Buc-ee’s the country’s best gas station in 2018.
Tennessee travelers should be eager as a beaver to find that Buc-ee’s hits the spot as a refueling stop for their vehicles and tummies, and restrooms that will make moms smile.