Racine stop keeps bringing them in

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 11, 2000

RACINE – Truckers in their big rigs stop here to fuel up.

Friday, August 11, 2000

RACINE – Truckers in their big rigs stop here to fuel up.

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Tourists flip their turning signals and drive off U.S. Highway 63.

Farmers park their pickup trucks and other locals visit, too.

Chances are, it will look like a family reunion or a picnic on Friday nights, when the grill is cooking hamburgers, hot dogs and broasted chicken.

What Bret Walters has done at the intersection of U.S. Highway 63 and Mower County CSAH No. 1 has made Racine a destination. A place to go, to visit and, maybe, to stay.

Not bad for a gas station, convenience store and the other auxiliary businesses. Not bad at all.

"We’ve been very fortunate," said Walters, "We’ve gotten off to a good start. We have some good employees, and the customers have been very loyal. I’m satisfied that the business will grow."

On three acres of blacktopped land that once housed an elevator, feed mill and nearby gas station, Walters and his financial partners have given Racine an entire central business district.

The investment has also created 14 full- and part-time jobs, which adds to the local economy as well.

The employees work in different capacities at the business; never the same one for too long, Walters said, in order to make their routine less of a rut and make work more pleasant with new challenges for the workers.

Walters is the son of Richard and Lana Walter of 7th Rib Restaurant fame.

He and his wife, Hilary, a certified nurse anesthetist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, have no children.

He has one sister, Nicole.

In December 1999, he opened Raceway Amoco Food Shop, a self-service gas station and more. A lot more to be sure.

It’s a convenience store for those in a hurry, but it’s also a small grocery store – more like a supermarket than anything else – plus sit-down cafe, pizza parlor, deli, video store, bakery and, most recently, a liquor store.

He is living proof of the old business axiom that the key to success is "location, location, location."

He’s also a customer friendly kind of business owner.

"When we opened the place, we wanted to have what people themselves wanted," he said. "Since we opened last December, we have heard from customers and we listened to them. We changed our selections to what our customers wanted."

The formula, putting customers first, is working.

Amoco gasolines, diesel, unleaded and regular, keep motor vehicles moving. Twice each day, Mayo Clinic buses pick up area workers at 6 a.m. and 7:10 p.m. and take them to their jobs in Rochester.

Like any other gas station and convenience store, they account for the in-and-out customer traffic.

But, many are staying for a quick meal, coffee and freshly baked rolls, a sandwich from the deli and other items from a menu that rivals a restaurant.

Sure, his parents’ successful 7th Rib restaurant gives the family a legacy and a presence in fine dining throughout the region, but Walters believes it’s important to "make our own identity."

He said, "We collaborate with the 7th Rib, but we also go our own way."

Not that the short history of the business has been without a curious complaint. "We keep hearing that we need more seating. People want to come here and eat here, so that’s something we will have to look into," he said.

Locals come for coffee and baked goods in the morning and many come back for noon lunch at midday.

On Sunday mornings, families stop for brunch.

Each Tuesday, broasted chicken is featured.

Each Wednesday, barbecue ribs are featured on the noon luncheon menu and there the 7th Rib Restaurant collaboration between parents and son works again.

Each Friday, it’s grill-out time. That’s when passersby will see picnic tables full of people and more people sitting on the sidewalk.

Walters is also featuring buffalo burgers, hot dogs and jerky. Tom and Shelly Kraetch, who own and operate Burr Oak Buffalo Ranch just south of Racine have found another outlet to introduce what they call "the world’s healthiest red meat" to consumers.

Only three months old is Raceway Liquor a separate business in a large area attached to the convenience store and other sundry businesses. "This was part of our original plan and that was to offer a liquor store, which was full-service and sold beer, wine and liquor," Walters said.

The close proximity of Deer Creek Speedway further south along U.S. Highway 63 has made the liquor store an early success.

Walters’ staff can supply kegs of beer for wedding receptions, birthday parties and other occasions.

Each month new specials are offered to entice customers.

"It was, I think, a smart decision to add a liquor store to the business. So far, it has worked out very nice and we hope it will grow," Walters said.

Walters keeps returning to the customer-friendly theme when he talks about how he hopes the mini-shopping center will succeed. "Customers help us along the way and I think that is very important. We listen to them and adjust our businesses accordingly. We’re here for them," he said.

Raceway Liquor is open 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

The other businesses, Amoco gas, Food Shop and sit-down dining are open 5 am. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.