Three Generations of Women Create Success at Coffee Cup Fuel Stops


Jane Heinz started her journey into the truckstop and travel plaza industry when she married into it 36 years ago. Since then, she has worked side-by-side with her husband, Tom, to open new Coffee Cup Fuel Stops stores and train people to run them. She also has done everything from serving as general manager to handling the merchandising, and together she and Tom have created a thriving business that now includes their children and grandchildren.

“Back when we started, we didn’t have a bookkeeper. I did the daily books. I knew how to change filters on the pump,” Heinz said. “That was how you could afford to run your business at that time.”

Heinz’s daughter, Ericka Schapekahm, said her parents frequently moved to build a new store. “We stayed a year to two years to get it going and then they would move on to build a new store or commute to a new store and run both. She and dad built those stores from the ground up for a long time,” she said.

Heinz said she has always enjoyed building the business, and their children have pitched in since they were young.

“The stores were as much a home as our home was,” Schapekahm said. “I would clean shelves and clean the showers and bathrooms. When I got older, I could run a register and do bookkeeping.”

The Return 
Schapekahm was gone from the business for about 16 years after college and re-joined the operation in 2011. Heinz said she never had any expectation that her son, Chris, or Ericka would join the family business.

“Our kids were smart and independent. They went to college and got their degrees and had their own business or worked for a major company,” Heinz said. “When Tom ran the idea by me I said, ‘It sounds wonderful, but they’re each into themselves as far as careers go. I didn’t know what they’d say.”

Thankfully, they thought it was a fascinating idea, Heinz said. She recommends anyone thinking of bringing their children into the business do their homework before hand. The Heinz family put a lot of discussion and thought into it, meeting with experts, including the dean of the business college at South Dakota State University, to discuss what happens when adult children come back to a family business.

Schapekahm said she and Chris completed a Hogan Assessment and worked through the results with a mediator. “You plan your budget and next year’s goals. You should put more planning into bringing family members into something that already exists,” she said. “We didn’t just do it.”

There was a learning period when returning, Schapekahm said. “There were a few times where people’s feelings got hurt unintentionally, but we had great communication. I think we’re firing on all pistons now,” she said. “When I came back, I enjoyed looking at my parents and my mom who had added more and more to her responsibilities but never gave people a job she couldn’t or wouldn’t do.”

Heinz said Schapekahm and Chris didn’t expect to be given anything. “This was a business we worked hard to make successful and we think they can carry on with that,” she said.

The Next Generation
Schapekahm’s own children, Autumn Berseth and Annika Berseth, were still young when Schapekahm re-joined the family business, but started working right away. “It was pretty new to them. I started working and getting paid at 11 or 12 so it was the same start around the same age,” she said.

Autumn said she started with dusting shelves and moving boxes in the back room. “There was a lot of cleaning and restocking shelves and making sure things were pretty,” she said, adding that she eventually started working at Caribou Coffee as a barista. “Then I became a team lead while working behind the counter.”

Last year, Autumn, who attends South Dakota State University, completed an internship with Chris on new programs for the deli.

Autumn said she enjoys learning from her grandmother, Jane, and has developed a strong work ethic as a result. “Even when I’m coming down and I’m not really working, I’ll hop behind the counter if it is busy or take out the trash when it is full,” she said. “I see them do it all the time. Now I take it upon myself to help.”

Today Annika is a senior in high school and has worked in several areas of the business. In addition to cleaning, she has worked on the sales floor and in the pizza restaurant and Caribou Coffee.

Annika said that in addition to learning a solid work ethic, she has learned that education is really important and is using her work experience to help her achieve her goals.

Lessons Learned
Schapekahm said that now looking back, she realizes one of the things her mom showed her was that “no job is not our job,” and she is always willing to do anything that needs to be done, whether it is cleaning a toilet or walking the parking lot.

Heinz said she has high expectations of everyone she works with, including her daughter and granddaughters. “I can honestly say that some days when I look at all three of them, they meet my expectations and mostly exceed them,” she said. “It warms my heart when I see that they see that there is a line up in a certain work area and they’ll jump in and help that person or they’ll see there is a pile of sunflower seeds and clean them up.”

Schapekahm said living up to those expectations wasn’t always easy growing up. “The difficulty of working for my parents when I was young is that your parents have the same set of expectations of you they do of all of their employees, and if you do something wrong, it isn’t just a coaching conversation in the pop cooler. They can ground you, too,” she said, adding that she always wanted to be a good example of her parents in public, which is something she is passing onto her children. “I tell them, ‘Your grandparents own a business in this town and we live here. Don’t embarrass us.’”

If anything, Schapekahm said she is harder on her kids at work and her parents were harder on her. “That is where my work ethic and attention to detail came from,” she said. “I have a lot of funny stories from my mom seeing things in the bathroom I hadn’t cleaned that needed it. That is what made me the best employee. There was so much attention to detail.”

The three generations of women said they enjoy working together and watching the business thrive. “I think when people see us all together working, they think, ‘That is a cute family.’ I really like it,” Annika said.

Mindy Long's photo

Mindy Long

Before launching a full-time freelance career, Long edited NATSO's Stop Watch magazine. Prior to that Long worked as a staff reporter for Transport Topics, a weekly trade newspaper, covering freight transportation, fuel and environmental issues. In addition to covering the transportation sector, Long has written, reported and edited for a variety of media outlets. She was the Washington correspondent for WCAX-TV (CBS) in Burlington, Vt., a criminal court reporter in Chicago and a freelance copy editor for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine in Washington D.C. Long hold a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill., and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Westminster College in Salt Lake City.More
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