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Great Ideas In Food Service From Independent Truckstop Operators

Posted in: Great Ideas, Truckstop Business, Darren's Great Ideas for Independent Operators, Marketing & Retail


Welcome to the newest post in our blog series, Darren’s Great Ideas! for Independent Operators

Great Ideas In Food Service From Independent Truckstop Operators

Next month at the DAS Travel Show, I will be sharing more than 60 great ideas I’ve seen in the over 300 independent truckstops I’ve visited in the last five years.

I plan to share pictures and stories of what operators are doing to set themselves apart from their competition.

Great idea sharing is what we do at NATSO. In February at The NATSO Show 2016, we’ll have a great idea session too. Be sure to mark your calendar for Feb. 22 – 25 so you can attend that session, but in the meantime you can download the slides from the DAS session here.


Over the next few blog posts, I’ll share some of the great merchandising, simple cost-cutting ideas and innovative programs and services I’ve seen here on the blog.  

First up! Food service!

I’ve written about it many times, but it bears repeating—food service is becoming a more and more important component of the overall sales at truckstops and travel plazas. 

Today’s customers are demanding greater quality and convenience in the food they purchase and smart operators are capitalizing on this demand.

Here are just a few of the great ideas in food service I’ve seen recently.

Mapco Express
I’m seeing more and more truckstops capitalize on the craft beer trend. Mapco Express for example has a growler program. Growlers are large re-sealable, reusable beer bottles—usually somewhere around a half gallon to gallon—that you can fill with whatever style of beer available at the "filling station."The jugs are reminiscent of old whisky jugs. At this location, the customers have six choices of craft styles of draft beer. They can bring in their own jugs or purchase one at the location. This Mapco Express have a lot of locals so the growlers program really works for them.

Cash Magic, Eunice, La.
I love this story (and this sandwich!) At the Cash Magic truckstop in Eunice, LA the person who normally made the breakfast sandwiches was out sick. The manager had to fill in and had to break it to a regular that there was no bread for his normal breakfast sandwich. She offered to make the sandwich out of french toast, which was all they had and the customer grumpily agreed to the change. Well low and behold, not only did the customer like the sandwich, but they also came back the next day with several friends who wanted to taste this magical sandwich. Now they sell 400 french toast breakfast sandwiches a day. The morale of the story is to get creative with your food ideas. Having something unique can be a big drawl. (I previously wrote about the sandwich and Smiles, Suggestive Selling and So Good Food in La. here.) 

International Study Tour
Fresh food especially is on trend right now, but it doesn’t have to be 100 percent fresh. At one retailer that we visited in Norway during the International Study Tour, the location takes premade sandwiches and adds freshly sliced tomatoes. They sell it for twice as much as premade sandwich. Take note: Open the box, undo the wrapper and add something fresh. Read more about International Retailers Focus on Fresh Food here.

NOCO Express, Tonawanda, New York
I don’t always encourage truckstops to add fresh grocery items, but I do if they have the right customers. NOCO Express, for example, has a lot of Hispanic customers who like the fresh lettuce, tomatoes, etc. They have seen great sales with this fresh produce display.

Donna’s Travel Center, Marysville, Washington
In 2013, Donna’s Travel Center in Marysville, Washington, added a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine that allows customers to choose from more than 40 Coca Cola products to create their own special drink. This Great Idea allows Donna’s to capitalize on the growing trend of customization. Allowing customers to create their own unique products is becoming an expectation, especially for millennials. Customization elevates customer loyalty and engagement—and this leads to word-of-mouth promotion to potentially untapped customers.

Pine Cone Travel Plaza, Madison, Wisconsin

I wrote about Pine Cone Travel Plaza after I visited it last year. (Visit that blog post about Pine Cone Travel Plaza’s Sweet Tooth Haven here.) This bakery really is something special. The bakery is doing as much sales as the travel store and is a destination in the community. 

Now you share! What great ideas in food service are you adding? Or better yet, what great idea in food service have you seen somewhere else? NATSO's VP of Publishing and Digital Content Amy Toner likes to send me pictures of cool stuff she sees like the one below of a great food display at Whole Foods. Have you seen something cool? Email it to us at

Wholefoods 650.png




Join the conversation! What great ideas in food service are you adding?

/// Read more Darren's Great Ideas for Independent Operators posts here.  

Photo Credit: Darren Schulte/NATSO

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About the Author

Darren Schulte

Darren Schulte

Darren Schulte serves as Vice President of Membership at NATSO. In this role, he directs recruitment, retention and customer service for truckstop and travel plaza members. He is also responsible for developing NATSO products and programs, particularly those relating to education, research and training for truckstop and travel plaza operators.

Schulte also leads NATSO's Profitable Retail Review program. A Profitable Retail Review is a custom assessment of your truckstop, including recommendations for every aspect of your facility, from actionable ideas to improve revenue to tactical ways to improve your net operating costs. Learn about NATSO's Profitable Retail Review program here.

Schulte joined NATSO with nearly three decades of experience in truckstop and travel plaza operations and merchandising. Schulte has worked for: 

  • Love's Travel Stops and Country Stores,
  • HESS Corporation, 
  • Petro Stopping Centers, and
  • TSC Global/Barjan LLC.