Buc-ee's First Colorado Location in Johnstown Is Now Open | Westword

Fans Lined Up for the Grand Opening of Buc-ee's First Colorado Location

Barbecue, kolaches and an entire wall of jerky are just some of the reasons this Texas travel center has a cult following.
Buc-ee's made its Colorado debut on March 18.
Buc-ee's made its Colorado debut on March 18. Helen Xu
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Driving on I-25 north from Denver, you'll pass multiple billboards advertising the first Buc-ee's in Colorado — and you sure won't miss it.

The 72,000-square-foot travel center is right off the highway at exit 252 in Johnstown; at night, it lights up a one-mile radius around it. At 5 a.m. on March 18, one hour before its debut, there were a couple dozen fans waiting in line — many of whom had been camped out since the previous night.

The grand opening of a gas station and convenience store isn't usually newsworthy, but for those in the know, Buc-ee’s is a cultural icon — a sprawling shrine to Texas food, clean bathrooms and the friendliest cartoon beaver. Search for “Buc-ee’s” on YouTube and you’ll find hundreds of videos of fans eating their way through the store, admiring its size and decking themselves out head to toe in Buc-ee's merch.

A group of eight college students who had been there since 8:30 p.m. on March 17 were the first in line. "We came as a joke. ...This is our spring break!" they exclaimed. Spirits were high, especially once the staff started handing out free T-shirts. Some people were Buc-ee's fans and already decked out in branded onesies, while some only knew of it from driving past the ongoing construction over the past year.
click to enlarge exterior of a large convenience store
The Johnstown location is currently tied for the largest convenience store in the world.

Randy Pauly, the company's pitmaster, was there along with the beaver mascot to hype up the crowd. By the time the doors opened at 6 a.m., hundreds of people were ready to file in. "I just knew I had to be here. I knew it would make my life; I was meant to be here," said Adian Piers, a Greeley resident and devout Buc-ee's fan.

His friend laughed, adding, "Just all the hyperbole!"

Founded in 1982, the first Buc-ee’s was a 3,000-square-foot general store and gas station in Lake Jackson, Texas. In 2003, it started to expand rapidly with more locations across Texas. In 2019, it began moving past state lines and now has outposts in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and Missouri.

The stores are meant to be havens for road travelers — open 24/7, 365 days a year with dozens of fueling stations. But the biggest Buc-ee's draw is the food.
click to enlarge a counter inside a convience store
The prepared-food counter inside a Buc-ee's, where visitors can stock up on fudge and other goodies.
There’s almost always a middle station called the Texas Round Up serving brisket, sausage and smoked turkey sandwiches. Buc-ee's takes its barbecue so seriously that it hired Pauly, an eight-title champion of the World's Championship Bar-B-Que Contest at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, as its company-wide pit master. Folks in Texas call Buc-ee's barbecue "pretty good," which is a compliment of the highest regard in a state where people don't joke about their smoked meats.

There are also counters for made-to-order sandwiches, tacos and burritos; dozens of varieties of homemade fudge (yes, they give free samples); and fresh pastries. Other highlights include an entire wall of jerky; aisles and aisles of trail mixes and pickles; refrigerator cases of snack packs, salads, banana pudding and Key lime pie; and a huge coffee station with every type of syrup and creamer known to man.

Buc-ee's has brought its kolaches to Johnstown, too — the Czech-inspired Texas pastry that's not commonly found outside of the Lone Star state. “We had to print up posters to explain what kolaches were,” jokes Josh Smith, director of operations southeast, who is responsible for new store openings.

The first Colorado Bu-cee’s has 116 fueling stations and 12 EV charging stations. It's now tied for the largest convenience store in the world at 74,000 square feet — at least until a bigger Buc-ee’s opens soon in Luling, Texas.
click to enlarge a red truck inside a store
Expect some Colorado-specific merch at the new Buc-ee's.
“We were looking to expand our footprint, and we searched for places that are easy to work with and employer-friendly markets. Johnstown, being north of Denver and in between Wyoming, made it ideal,” Smith explains. “There’s not much on that stretch of highway, and we wanted to grasp that footprint while we could.”

Other than the merch, which includes Colorado-specific collectibles, there is little difference in layout, decor or menu from the 47 other locations across the nation.

Buc-ee’s first approached the city of Johnstown three and a half years ago. “You have a mixed pool of people who know what Buc-ee's is, and then you have a few that don't,” says Smith. “It’s exciting, because you get to share with them what Buc-ee’s is and what we can do to the local economy when we do come in.”
click to enlarge bags of snacks on a shelf
Buc-ee's Beaver Nuggets come in a variety of flavors.
Although the company declined to comment on whether it received any incentives or tax rebates from the city and state, a chief benefit is the high-quality jobs that Buc-ee’s prides itself on offering. At the Johnstown location, Buc-ee’s has 200 permanent, full-time employees making $18 to $23 per hour with full benefits, a 6 percent matching 401(k) and three weeks of paid vacation.

It staffed 100 percent of the roles in a one-day job fair, and the new employees have been in an intensive training program since mid-February. Each Buc-ee’s store gets roughly thirty days from “key day” (when it receives the keys from the construction team) to opening day. “We bring in personnel from all over the country to come in and train the new associates, set up the new store,” Smith explains.

For many of these employees, it's their first time leaving Texas, and “when people walk out the back door and all you see is the Rocky Mountains, that was the first time they ever saw elevation change, and the excitement on their faces kind of really made everybody have a little extra pep in their step," Smith shares.
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