A history-packed past, made-from-scratch food and an emphasis on customer service keep customers flocking to L.G. Truckers City dba TA Wapakoneta in Wapakoneta, Ohio.
The historic location was the first truckstop on the interstate, said owner Tom Panos. It was built in 1956 shortly after President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. For the next 15 years, it was one of the busiest truckstops in the country.
Today the location no longer holds the annual Miss I-75 Beauty Contest, but it still quite busy serving roughly 1,000 fuel customers a day.
The Panos family bought the location in 1991. Located off exit 111 at the intersection of I-75 and US 33, the 19,000-square-foot space has a full-service restaurant, 125 parking spaces, eight fuel islands, a c-store, CAT Scale and a shop.
After leasing out the location for a period, the Panos’ took back over the operation in 2005. Because the facility was built 60 years ago, logistically they are sometimes limited in the changes they can make, but that hasn’t stopped them from building a great facility. They invested $2 mil- lion to gut the inside and renovate the store and the restaurant.
Drivers And Fuel Rule
The history might be part of the novelty of the location, but its the quality of the food in the restaurant and the location’s laser focus on professional drivers that keep customers coming back, Panos explained.
“We are known for good food,” Panos said. “We do everything from scratch. We don’t use any powered soups and we cut our own meat. We have large portions of really good food. You can taste the difference in the quality in our foods.”
With a restaurant background, his family fell into the truckstop business but they fully embraced it. The other cornerstone in their business model, “the trucker is king,” is very important to how they run their truckstop.
All of their decisions are based on the needs of a trucker. “We are a true truckstop. Our customer is the truck driver,” said Panos. For example, they keep the location exceptionally clean and have some of the nicest showers on the highway. “Our showers are better than those I have in my own home,” Panos said.
Accounting And Management
Panos runs many businesses and is not physically at the location 24/7, but he always is just a click away. The location has an extensive camera system, which Panos uses to keep an eye on the business. “We have 24 cameras accessible from my phone,” he said.
But it is clear that what really gives him this comfort is his impeccable staff. “In between solid bookkeeping and our cameras, I always know what is going on.”
“After 30 years, you find out what is most important and a good accounting department is very important,” Panos said. His bookkeepers are a very valuable asset to him.
“We have very solid accounting practices,” Panos told Stop Watch. “We can easily reconcile our accounts and know everything from the number of refunds to exactly what was collected that day.” His bookkeepers audit one another and track everything all the way down to what the content is of faxes coming and going from the location.
Panos wants employees to know that the managers, rather than the owners, are the real gatekeepers. “We tell them that it is irrelevant whether or not we are there. Those bathrooms should be spotless, for example, for the managers. We really almost squash that kind of pecking order.” As Panos further explained, “We aren’t completely removed. It is just when it comes to management of the staff, it is the managers who have the authority.”
This combination of solid business practices must be working, because 56 years after it was built the location is still thriving. They plan to renovate the facility’s outside next year and have top secret plans for a new food service concept in 2013 that is sure to be a success.
Tom Panos Take Over
In 2005, Panos took over the family’s large business, which does everything from apartments to restaurants to billboards. Prior to running the family business, Panos earned a Masters in Information Technology and worked in IT for 10 years. While this change in vocation was quite a departure, he said, “I’m much more content now than I was in corporate America.”
In fact, he said by far his favorite responsibility is the truckstop. “I really found an appreciation of how intricate of a business a trucktop actually is.”
Not all days are perfect, with those with technology failures marking his least favorite days, but he said, “By far, looking at our businesses from the high-end steak restaurants down, there is absolutely no better customer than a truck driver. None. None even come close. They are the best customers.”
This article originally ran in Stop Watch magazine. Stop 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.
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