Farm, Family, Food

Ozarks TravelCenter has a winning recipe for success … and a winning recipe for brisket.

Farm, Family, Food

July 2023   minute read

By: Al Hebert

Long before the concept of a convenience store existed, intrepid entrepreneurs like Frank Wilmoth operated service stations in small buildings. It was simpler times. Frank opened his small gas station more than 80 years ago. Four generations later, the Wilmoth family continues in the business on a scale that would astound great-granddad. 

Frank’s son Dwight, Dwight’s sons Greg and Brent, and their sons Chase (Greg) and Eric and Kyle (Brent) combined to open six c-stores and two truck stops over the years. In 1980, Dwight led the first company awarded a Truckstops of America (now TravelCenters of America) franchise.

On April 25, 2023, the latest Wilmoth family operation, the Ozarks TravelCenter in Mount Vernon, Missouri, opened for business. 

This 30,000-square-foot flagship store has 56 fueling stations with eight diesel pumps. “We had planned to build for years. We watched our competitors, Buc-ee’s and Wally’s, become successful with their large presence and a lot of different offerings like food, gifts and nice restrooms,” said Chase, adding, “we did something a little different by adding a professional drivers area.”

A Family Operation

“We were a chicken strip and potato wedge company up until three years ago,” said Bryan Davis, foodservice manager. Food costs skyrocketed after the pandemic and the company decided to implement a new supply chain strategy.

“We supplement as much meat as we can from our farm,” said Chase. Wilmoth Ranch started in 1998 and continues to expand. It’s been part of the supply chain for the family’s retail business for two years. “With how we’re doing our cattle, we can provide three or four months of brisket and quite a lot of hamburger. We’re kind of building our foodservice brand around our farm brand. ‘Farm, Family, Food’ is the motto,” Chase explained. 

If you talk to people who barbecue with passion, you will find they keep some secrets. Ozarks TravelCenter is no different. “Our trade secrets are more in the barbacue area. We make our own rubs. We use a dry rub for the brisket. When we get ready to cut it, the juices run out of it. It falls apart in your mouth. Our chopped brisket is as popular as our sliced,” Davis said. 

The sliced brisket sandwich is the most popular menu item. There’s a reason. It’s fresh. “A lot of c-stores are forced to use frozen products. Ours is fresh and smokes for 12 hours,” said Davis. 

“When you take something out of the freezer, the moisture will evaporate as it thaws. It’s why companies that produce frozen food will flash freeze it. We want to go in with as much moisture as possible since it will sit in a hot case. We want to hold onto it for an hour before we pull it out. We keep our turns frequent. We have enough volume,” Davis explained. The volume that allows those quick turns comes from the three to four thousand customers who walk through the doors each day. “On the weekends, we have five or six thousand people come through each day,” he said. 

In a store with a 10,000-square-foot sales floor and a customer volume that’s mind-blowing, it might be hard to remember that this is a family-owned business until you hit the dessert island. There it feels a bit like grandma’s been baking. There’s a reason. 

“We have my grandmother’s chocolate cake,” Chase said. “We have in-house baked goods with eight varieties of cookies.” The dessert island is centrally located so it draws customers to the middle of the sales area. 

Getting the Locals In

If a c-store is close to an interstate, it can be a challenge to get local customers to come in. Of course, the team at Ozarks TravelCenter has a plan.

“We do something different. We sell the meat by the pound, sliced brisket, sliced turkey, pulled pork and burnt ends. Locals come in for this. We have a good following in town,” said Davis, adding, “if someone is having a family gathering they can stop and get six pounds of pulled pork.”

“To get locals in, you have to treat it more like a restaurant than a c-store. You have to have a consistent product. In my previous job I traveled the country. The biggest problem was consistency and freshness. They wanted to cook food at eight in the morning and customers who came in later get subpar, less-than-fresh, almost day-old food. Fresh has made us successful. Our hot case is flawless. We never try to reuse anything that’s going to harm our consistency.”

Consistency is critical for a successful food program, but it’s not easy to maintain. 

“It took me eight months to get everyone on the same page in all of the stores. It’s a repetition thing,” explained Davis. “The employee needs to do it seven or eight times. It’s burned into the brain so they can do it consistently. We have how-to guides and procedure guides, so when in doubt they can look.”

Staffing Success

When c-store operators gather, at some point the conversation will turn to staffing. Who has a winning strategy?

“We don’t want to be the place where people are working and they’re looking for a job that pays better. We want to be the place that pays better,” Chase said. “In my mind, it’s people skills, not past experience. If you can talk to people, be friendly and carry on a conversation, it’s better than experience. We can train people to be good employees.”

Davis likes the work environment. “The Wilmoths treat the employees very well. People enjoy working here. It’s a drama-free zone. If you’re a single mom and you need to get off early to pick up a child from school, they accommodate that. We have our core employees. We have one or two that turn over, but that’s because we let them go if they don’t fit. It’s because we don’t want to damage what we have.”

First slide

First slide

A central dessert island draws customers into the middle of the store.

First slide

Bryan Davis (left) and Chase Wilmoth

Al Hebert

Al Hebert

Al Hebert is the Gas Station Gourmet, showcasing America’s hidden culinary treasures. Find him at

To provide complete functionality, this web site needs your explicit consent to store browser cookies. We recommended that you "allow all cookies" so you may be able to use certain features, such as logging in, saving articles, or personalizing content.