Jill and Annie, the baby buffaloes, will be celebrating the holidays at their new home. They’ll be hanging out with Wide and Doublewide, two longhorn steers; Zorro the zebra; and Princess the donkey.
So will the members of the Benda family as they observe the holiday behind the counter of their latest Fuel City gas station/convenience store/taqueria on Airport Freeway in Haltom City.
This is where dreams come true. I want people to have fun here.
Fuel City founder and CEO John Benda
And even as the store prepares to open its doors this week with street tacos, fried pies and milkshakes, owner John Benda is working on plans to open another Fuel City in Saginaw next year. The 11,000- to 12,000-square-foot-store will be located at Industrial Boulevard and Farm Road 156, or Blue Mound Road.
“This is where dreams come true. I want people to have fun here,” said Benda, a gregarious showman who sometimes sports the flair of P.T. Barnum in promoting what many would think is the mundane, everyday business of pumping gas.
This is Benda’s third store — he has one in Dallas and another in Mesquite. They all represent Benda’s vision of creating a place where people don’t just swiftly visit and get gas, but hang around like they would at a neighborhood store. Besides multiple fueling stations selling discounted gas, Fuel City offers other amenities, some of them exotic.
The Haltom City store, at 8,600 square feet on about 8.5 acres, is no different. Inside the bright and airy store are coolers of soft drinks and beer, as you would expect. But the countertops are granite and the walls are covered in rich wood paneling and decorated with the mounted heads of 20 animals. Standing near the cash register is a stuffed bear.
One one side of the store is the stand that will sell street tacos 24/7, which has made the Fuel City near downtown Dallas famous. But next to it is a new feature, a section that will sell 15 different flavors of fried pies.
It will be a significant impact to the local economy and a boost in sales tax.
Haltom City Assistant City Manager Rex Phelps
Outside next to the taco stand, is a patio with flat-screen televisions and picnic tables made out of pecan, as well as garage doors that can be rolled up and down to protect patrons from the weather. There also are statues, including a horned frog, a nod to TCU.
But secured behind an 8-foot-tall fence is the menagerie that is another trademark of Benda’s stores. Along with the buffaloes and other animals is a zonkey (half-zebra, half-donkey) named Stormy. They can easily be seen in their pen from cars going through the line for the car wash.
“We treat them so good, this is Shangi-La” for them, Benda said, holding a handful of hay.
Benda, who spent about $10 million on the project, expects big things out of the Haltom City store. He plans to copy some of the things that have made his Dallas store a success, including a karaoke night. In Dallas, the event has made Fuel City so popular that Benda has had to hire off-duty cops to direct traffic.
So far, Benda says he hasn’t heard any complaints about the new store from neighbors. City officials are clearly excited about the eye-catching store’s opening, even if Fuel City creates a traffic jam.
“We’re not worried, but if in the future we need to adjust our efforts to handle an issue like that, we will be equipped to deal with it,” Assistant City Manager Rex Phelps said. “It will be a significant impact to the local economy and a boost in sales tax.”
Then Phelps, who admits liking spicy food, said he can’t wait for them to open. “They are kind of famous for their tacos. … I plan on doing it as soon as they open.”
That kind of talk is music to Benda’s ears.
“I just want it to be cool and fun. And the masses, they seem to like it,” he said.