From Swings to BBQ

Duke’s Travel Plaza sells an eclectic array of services and Texas-made products.

From Swings to BBQ

February 2024   minute read

By: Sarah Hamaker

Name of company: Duke’s

Date founded: 2009

# of stores: 2

Website: www.dukestx.com

Duke’s Travel Plaza in Mt. Vernon, Texas, wears its Lone Star State Articles proudly. It’s the second Duke’s, joining a location in Canton, Texas. “We built our Mt. Vernon location from the ground up and knew we wanted it to have an even more Texas look and feel than our first location,” said Mike Hamzeh, Duke’s general manager. “We prominently feature Texas-made products, as well as lots of pictures of the Duke (actor John Wayne) as part of our decor.”

While the Mt. Vernon location of Duke’s caters to truckers pulling off I-30, the store also has a strong local following drawn to its good food, clean location, fun atmosphere and unique novelty items. “We have a passion for people, and we love seeking new items or opportunities to delight them,” he said.

Starting With Food

Like many modern convenience stores, Duke’s focuses on offering a variety of fresh foodservice through a franchise of Taco Casa and its own barbeque restaurant, Cotton Belt BBQ, and bakery. “We serve brisket, turkey, pulled pork and different sides in the restaurant, while our bakery makes our popular fried pies, cookies, muffins and cheesecake,” Hamzeh said.

A large grab-and-go section provides chicken nuggets, fried green beans, fried pickles, chimichangas, mac-and-cheese crunch, buffalo crunch and turkey legs, plus specials like Salisbury steak dinners. In addition, the cold case offers premade sandwiches and salads, like egg, tuna and lettuce. “Our drivers especially like the wide variety of options to choose from in our foodservice area,” Hamzeh said. Of course, the store has fresh brewed coffee, fountain drinks, beer and wine and frozen beverages.

As part of its service to truckers, the TA Express-branded plaza has six showers, laundry facilities, an on-site barber and game room/driver’s lounge. An 80-seat dining room gives space for meals to be consumed on the premises. “We also recently added a four-bay truck service and five more diesel pumps for truckers,” Hamzeh said.

In addition, Duke’s has four charging points for electric vehicles. “We’re one of the first outlets along I-30 to offer charging stations, as part of our desire to be first with the things our customers want,” he said.

Even man’s best friend has a dedicated space at Duke’s, with a dog park and dog wash. “We installed a state-of-the-art dog wash and fenced park with picnic tables for our customers,” Hamzeh said. “It’s been a very popular part of the plaza.”

Texas Products

Duke’s prides itself on carrying locally made and unusual items. For example, the store stocks handmade swings, windmills and firepits. “There are a lot of lakes with summer homes near us, and people love to pick up a bench swing from our store to use in their vacation homes,” Hamzeh said.

The store also sports Texas gifts and novelties, including souvenirs and an entire line of clothing for men, women and kids. Duke’s has t-shirts, jackets and hoodies with its own logo, as well as a line of branded beef jerky. “Our customers like Texas-made products. Carrying such items adds value to our store,” he said.

To connect with the community, the store gives sponsorships to local school sports teams and donates to area food banks. “We have quite a budget for sponsorships, because we believe in giving back to the community as much as we can,” Hamzeh said.

For the future, Duke’s plans on expanding with a new location this year to bring the Duke’s experience to even more customers. “We love our customers and our employees, whom we consider part of our family,” Hamzeh said. “We go overboard to ensure we’re carrying the products they want, and if they ask for something we don’t have, we’ll do our best to get it in as soon as possible.”

For Hamzeh, the best compliment a customer can give is to notice how clean and organized the store is. “We want our customers to see we care about them through how clean our bathrooms are and how friendly our employees are,” he said. “We’ve created a very comfortable atmosphere that feels like home.”

Bright Ideas

As part of looking for new technology and products for Duke’s Travel Plaza in Mt. Vernon, Texas, General Manager Mike Hamzeh heads to industry shows. “We go to explore new items for our store as well as new technology, both to accommodate the needs of our customers and to make our jobs easier,” he said.

For example, at the 2023 NACS Show in Atlanta, his team explored back-office technology as well as freeze-dried candy. “We also love to see what’s new for products, as we like to be first in our area with the new items,” he said. “Anything that makes our jobs easier and our business more friendly to customers is what we look for at these shows.

Sarah Hamaker

Sarah Hamaker

Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer, NACS Magazine contributor, and romantic suspense author based in Fairfax, Virginia. Visit her online at sarahhamakerfiction.com.

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