Stopping at the Racine Petro in Sturtevant, Wisconsin, is a treat for locals, travelers and professional drivers alike. The location features a variety of fun features, from outdoor swings to an Airstream that sits inside the location as a centerpiece.
“We’ve been a Petro franchisee since 2000,” said Michael Willkomm, co-owner and president of Willkomm Companies, during a recent episode of NATSO’s podcast. “We remodeled in the last year to expand the travel store, revamp and add a bunch of food offerings. We turned a sorry, sad, old, dated Petro into an exciting, new, fun adventure here in Wisconsin.”
Willkomm shared the details of the renovation during NATSO’s podcast, The Truck Stops Here. The location expanded and added a new, two-story structure and 5,000 square feet to the travel store as part of the renovation. It now boasts a 27,000-square- foot building, significantly increasing from the previous 15,000 square feet.
“The theme we took on in this location is that you’re traveling to Wisconsin,” he said. “You’re going up north and going fishing, boating or hiking, and you get to do all the fun things you get to do in Wisconsin.”
A fun feature of the location is the Airstream, which serves as a grill. “We found an Airstream, I believe, in Kentucky. When we talked to the guy, he said, ‘It isn’t finished. It is just the shell.’ We said perfect! Don’t finish it,” Willkomm said.
The grill inside the Airstream sends food via baskets to the bar, indoor seating area and rooftop patio on the second floor. “The food trolley travels 45 feet at an angle and travels to the bar area. It is very visible, and it is also practical,” Willkomm said. “It was a fun way to do something different.”
Willkomm said he remembers visiting a restaurant as a child that delivered food on a train. “We want the experience to be memorable for more than the taste of the food,” he said.
In addition to the location’s own branded food concept, the Blue Badger Bar and Grill, it features a Taco Bell, Dunkin Donuts and O&H Danish Bakery. Racine is known as the home of O&H Danish Kringle. “It is a Danish pastry that takes three days to make,” Willkomm said. “You can only get them in Racine. When you come to Racine, you get a Kringle.”
Customers can take advantage of outdoor seating. “When you're in a truck and sitting in it all day, or you have kids packed in the car, you just need a little space and some fresh air. We thought an outdoor patio would be fun,” Willkomm said, adding that they wanted to add some fun to the area. “There are some single swings and two-person swings, and we added fire pits.”
The swings were so popular that Willkomm added more. “In the first few months, if four people walked outside, four people went to the swings. We doubled up,” he said, adding that the outdoor area makes the location more enjoyable. “It is a place to relax. It is something you don’t normally find at a travel center.” Another innovative feature is the restrooms, which feature two sides so one side can remain open while the other is being cleaned. Willkomm said he got the idea from a fellow operator. “Someone told me the great thing about our industry is you can steal ideas from anybody, and that is exactly what I’ve done,” he said.
The renovations and fun additions have helped draw in customers. “On different days and at different times, we’re seeing different groups of people,” Willkomm said. “There are times when it is more drivers and times when it is more locals.”
The Racine Petro recently hosted a retirement party for a local bank. “It was wonderful to see they were discovering us. They’ll be back next month with their next event,” he said.
The best part of the renovation has been customers’ reactions. “It is the most rewarding thing in the world as an operator to hear somebody say, ‘Thank you for doing this for us,’” Willkomm said.
Learn more about the Racine Petro in the podcast episode You Don’t Want To Miss All the Experiences at Racine Petro.
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