It would be hard to find a c-store with more personality than Red Dirt Jack’s in Medicine Lodge, Kansas. It’s a small store with a big presence. The three sisters who own it are creative and run the business with a real sense of fun. Of course, the food is a big deal as well. You can tell that the sisters—Rhonda Gabriel, Marsha Hoagland Reddick and Diane Johnson—are having fun the minute you meet them.
“In March of 2020, Rhonda asked me if I wanted to buy a convenience store. We both owned convenience stores in the past. I immediately said yes. We asked our sister Diane if she wanted to be a part of our new adventure and she wanted to join us as well,” said Marsha.
“We bought the convenience store in May 2020, and our opening day was May 11. The pandemic hit in March of that year. We feel our success hinges on a couple of factors—our work ethic, which was ingrained into us by our parents, our drive to succeed and the love we have for our hometown, Medicine Lodge, as well as all of Barber County, Kansas,” Marsha said.
About this point in the story, one has to ask, who is Red Dirt Jack?
Rhonda had a life-size stuffed miniature donkey named Jack. Now this is not just any stuffed animal. It’s made with a steel skeleton. It’s tough, kind of like the three sisters. Although Rhonda tried to give it away, no one wanted Jack. So Jack started to accompany the sisters on trips and became somewhat famous due to the blogs created about him. Their cousin suggested calling the store Jack’s.
As for the red dirt? “Many people believe Kansas is completely flat. We live in the Gypsum Hills of Barber County, which is a rugged area with buttes, wide-open spaces and cedar-tree-dotted pastures and red dirt,” explained Marsha.
The little donkey resonates with people here. When customers go on vacation, they take photos while wearing Red Dirt Jack’s t-shirts. Then they post them to the store’s Facebook page.
“Jack is a character. Kids like to get on his back and take pictures. He can hold 250 pounds. During Nurses Week, we dressed him up like a nurse,” said Rhonda.
The previous owners did not have a food program. The sisters decided food would be important to the success of the store. Diane explained: “We added a commercial kitchen to accomplish our goal of providing hot food to our customers. The hot food case is conveniently located between the two cash registers.”
The day at Red Dirt Jack’s begins with breakfast. Made-to-order food items are not offered. “It’s whatever we put in the hot food box. However, we consistently have the same food items every day. Our cooks prepare breakfast sandwiches, biscuits and gravy, omelets, breakfast tacos, breakfast casserole, muffins and many other breakfast items. A bestseller is our homemade breakfast burritos. The first day we introduced the breakfast burritos we sold 208 of them,” said Diane.
The store has become a community hub for early risers. “We have customers come in daily and say they are thankful that we have this business. It’s a gathering spot. People arrive at 5 a.m. and solve the world’s problems. About 30 different guys come and go throughout the morning,” said Diane.
Red Dirt Jack’s offers about 20 or 30 different lunch specials. The sisters cycle them every few weeks, with the exception of a couple staples.
Rhonda explained, “Every Monday and Friday, the specials are the same.
Monday is Chinese and Friday is half-pound hand-patted cheeseburgers and patty melts.”
“Think about a restaurant that serves food made to order. They most likely wouldn’t have the ability to serve 100 hamburgers in an hour. We can. Customers love them. It’s crazy to watch that many customers come in and out of here,” said Marsha.
It’s no surprise that home cooking is key to the success of the food. Grandma Eva’s meatloaf recipe is popular. We do a lot of family recipes. I do my chicken enchiladas. We have lots of home cooking,” said Marsha.
“Another favorite is bierocks. This is ground beef and cabbage along with our secret ingredients and cheese. You wrap it in dough and then you bake it,” said Rhonda.
In addition to the hot food program, the sisters also installed a deli case, which features a variety of cheeses and deli meats as well as salads. The sandwiches are made to order, but with a twist to keep things as efficient as possible.
“People are creatures of habit. So we keep a file of customer’s sandwich and salad preferences. They walk up or call in and give their name and say, ‘I have a salad or sandwich on file,’” said Marsha, adding, “This system eliminates the need to fill out a sandwich or salad order form, which in turn reduces the amount of wait time for the customers.”
The work ethic of the sisters is an example to employees.
“Part of our success is the three owners work alongside the employees,” Diane said. “I’ve had my arm down the drain of the carwash unclogging the gunk and getting the dead animals out,” recalled Rhonda. Marsha credits ranch life. “Growing up, we worked cattle with our dad. We got our work ethic from our parents.”
If you talk to Marsha, Rhonda and Diane, it doesn’t take long for their spirit of fun and zest for life to come over you like a wave of marshmallows and sprinkles. Customers of all ages pick up on this. Diane said a customer told her that her 12-year-old son said he wanted to go to the store. He told his mother, “I feel good when I go in. I don’t know what it is, but I like it.”
That good feeling customers get when they come in a business is important. At Red Dirt Jack’s, the purchase is more than a transaction. It’s an experience for customers. That’s how these three engaging sisters keep folks coming back again and again.