Rising From the Ashes

On Oct. 18, 2010 at 12:06 a.m. a fire broke out at Broadway Flying J Travel Plaza in Battle Creek, Nev., and the location’s restaurant and casino quickly burned to the ground.

Over the next 13 months, Stuart Ellison, director of operations for Broadway Travel Plazas, led the rebuild of the restaurant and casino. In fact, he made 33 trips from Spokane, Wash., to Battle Creek.

On Nov. 10, the Colt Casino & Restaurant was ready to once again serve the traveling community and was better than ever.

“We realized we could have a captive audience, being the only full-service restaurant in the area, but we didn’t want to rely on that. We wanted to be the best option out there. A place that our customers sought out, and I think in this reconstruction, we have been able to do that,” said Dan Alsaker, president of Broadway Flying J.

Alsaker used the rebuild as an opportunity to make new investments. Given the high cost of utilities in the area, Alsaker wanted the location to be incredibly energy efficient and chose to invest in energy savers such as LED lighting, more efficient kitchen hoods that will offer an $8,000 savings in energy costs over the year, and a new ice cream dipper that uses a small heater to kill bacteria rather than constantly running water.

“The new kitchen will be our most energy-efficient effort to date,” Alsaker said.

Rebuilding was a team effort

Alsaker credits his employees with ensuring the project was a success. “To build a new project is something in its own right, but to work us through the fire, help employees land on their feet, organize a way to move forward, and coordinate all the architects, permitting agencies, state and federal regulators in preparation to start the new construction has been leadership [of our entire team] at its best.”

Should other operators ever find themselves needing to rebuild after a disaster, Ellison suggests they communicate extremely well with employees and keep a detailed inventory of all their items.

As is the case with all NATSO members, long-term employees are important to the location. In fact, 11 of Broadway Battle Creek’s 70-person staff have been with them for at least 10 years. After the fire, they were able to retain 90 percent of their employees by using two creative methods.

Broadway already had a marketing system in place to relay text messages to customers, and they tapped into the system to regularly communicate the status of their rebuild to employees throughout the 13 months.

They also held monthly barbecues for all of the old staff. They nicknamed these shindigs “Pad Parties,” as they were originally held on the concrete pad of early construction. Different members of the corporate staff came down each month for the parties and even took command of the grill. The monthly parties helped the corporate office stay in touch with the former employees and also gave the employees an opportunity to weigh in on the rebuild.

Because Broadway had to work with its insurance company, Ellison had to provide a detailed inventory of all of its items, including the small items, such as an itemized list of the pots and pans in the kitchen. Writing up the list was an enormous task. To prevent this painstaking process in the future, Ellison plans to videotape the location.


This article originally ran in Stop Watch magazineStop Watch provides in-depth content to assist NATSO members in improving their travel plaza business operations and provides context on trends and news affecting the industry.

The magazine is mailed to NATSO members bimonthly. If you are a member and not receiving Stop Watchsubmit a request to be added to the mailing list. Not a memberJoin today or submit a request to receive additional information.

Amy Toner's photo

Amy Toner

Toner markets NATSO products, services and meetings. She is the content editor of NATSO's core websites, Stop Watch magazine and Highway Business Matters biweekly articles. In addition, she provides creative services across all departments. Toner joined NATSO in 2006. Prior to joining the association, she served as director of membership services at an association for ambulatory surgery centers. Toner lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and son. More
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