The first Colorado Buc-ee’s location is now open in Johnstown

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4min 29sec
Lauren Antonoff Hart
Buc-ee’s staff members greet visitors on opening day. The Johnstown location is Colorado’s first Buc-ee’s, and the first Buc-ee’s west of the Lone Star state.

Just before its 6 a.m. opening, the line of excited fans wrapped around half of the building of the vast new Buc-ee’s travel center

Then the count-down — “3-2-1 WELCOME TO BUC-EE’S” — rang out as the smiling and orderly crowd flooded the sparkling new facility.

Many Coloradans are familiar with Buc-ee’s famously clean restrooms, and the freshly prepared food from road trips to other states, including Texas where the chain started in 1982. But this is its first outpost west of the Lone Star State.

Lauren Antonoff Hart
A visitor examines Buc-ee's merchandise on opening day.

The Cowin family from Erie stopped at the very first merch display to eagerly select souvenir T-shirts before beginning their explorations. The family was already familiar with Buc-ee’s from stops in Texas and Tennessee.  

“It’s the first Buc-ee’s in Colorado and it’s spring break, so double win,” said Cassidy Cowin, explaining what got them out of bed so early.

Her son, Lucas Cowin, was impressed with the turnout. “It's just always an all-around big thing to do. It's never this busy.”

Buc-ee's in Colorado is a big presence not only for its enormous size and devoted fanbase but also for the undeniable economic impact it’s already having on this stretch of northern I-25. 

The 74,000-square-foot building, fronted by 116 fuel pumps, employs just over 275 staff members to keep the place going 24/7.

Lauren Antonoff Hart
Staff members at the Sweets station are excited to greet visitors on opening day at Colorado's first Buc-ee's, located in Johnstown.

Director of operations for the chain, Josh Smith, said the team was impressed with the work ethic of the Colorado staff. 

“A lot of times when we go into new markets, not everybody really understands who we are and what their job will be like,” said Smith. “we're 700 and something miles away from the closest Buc-ee's, and most people didn't know what it was. And so they were able to take that and the culture and they're just running with it, and it's exciting.”

The impact may cut the other way, too. The center will be competing with a long-time Colorado mainstay, the Johnson’s Corner truck stop, which has operated a restaurant and bakery (famous for its cinnamon rolls) just across the highway since 1952.

Lauren Antonoff Hart
Buc-ee's is famous for its barbecue — especially its brisket — which is announced with the chant, "Fresh brisket on board!”

Inside Buc-ee’s travel center, a market offers snacks like dried fruit and nuts and a wall-sized display of jerky options. For hot fuel-up options, food counters line the back wall, while the Texas Roundup carving station and a candy-making counter stand out as islands in the flow of foot traffic. At the carving station, the team shouts out, in a call and response, “Fresh brisket on the board!”

“The coolest part about it is you can get a brisket sandwich at this location 24-7,” explains Buc-ee's pitmaster Randy Pauly, “and it's going to (be) fresh.”

Pauly, who oversees barbecue quality for the chain’s dozens of locations, was on hand to train the new Colorado staff to deliver the chain’s famous brisket, with its trademark holler. But he says it’s more than a recipe.

“I can tell you ‘low and slow,’ ‘a little bit more pepper than salt,’ right? ‘A hair of garlic.’ And I can go over all that and I can say, ‘at least 14 hours of smoking. But really the secret is go look at that Texas roundup right there and look at the smiles,” said Pauly, gesturing to the staff hard at work behind the brisket station. 

Lauren Antonoff Hart
Randy Pauly, Buc-ee’s director of barbecue, and Colorado staff at the Johnstown brisket station.

"Those employees maybe didn't know what a brisket was 21 to 30 days ago, but now they know how to break one down. They know how to make the most perfect taco and barbecue sandwich. And I tell you, that's really where the win is. So that's the champions right there, that’s the secret.”

While Buc-ee’s has developed a multi-state, cult-like following, Smith said the goal is to meet travelers’ needs across the board. 

“We want to remember that we're here to offer that safe environment for the family travelers. We want them to know that they're going to be comfortable taking their kids. Mom can take the kids into the restroom and not have to worry about anything. It's safe,” said Smith. “Everybody in the car is going to be able to get something that they want without having to make five different stops.”

“It's an experience,” said Andy Cowin. “You got to come in, you got to get your merch, get your snacks, get gas. I like to buy all the barbecue rubs.” 

But with the sun not even above the horizon, Cowin said it might be a little too early to get Buc-ee’s famed brisket on this visit, “but we'll see. Maybe a breakfast burrito.”