While it started out as a traditional Gulf service station and truck stop in 1999, Fuel City has become its own theme park. Oh, the gas is still available, and, according to owner John Benda, it’s at the lowest prices anywhere in the city.
Are you saying, “Gulf? I didn’t know they were still around?” Fuel City has the distinction of being the only Gulf station in Dallas, while “pioneering the spirit of coming back to Texas,” Benda said. When asked why Fuel City, Benda replied, “I wanted to give people an idea of what Dallas looks like. We have mature trees, cattle, a swimming pool and fountain, and even a 1950s windmill on the property.” The inside décor is traditional Texana, and often on Fridays a mariachi band plays. An occasional singer or band entertains by the pool.
In recent years, Benda, a Woodrow Wilson ’69 alumnus, added a car wash. Still, who says, “Let’s go hang out at the gas station?” With truckers, cars in need of gas or a wash, and curious passers by visiting the unique spot, the company’s appropriate tagline is: “Fuel City is the ranch in downtown Dallas.”
D Magazine once printed, “Calling Fuel City a ‘gas station’ is like saying ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is a story about a car trip.” That publication named Fuel City’s “picadillo” tacos the best in Dallas. Texas Monthly called them the best in the state, while The Observer printed accolades about the food, with specialties being the tacos and corn – the latter a novelty with a choice of toppings, like sour cream and hot sauce.
On any given day or night, lines form in front of the taco bar. Customers gather at the unique “Patio,” which Benda recently added to accommodate those preferring to sit while enjoying their food. The kitschy Fuel City serves breakfast from 5 to 11 a.m.
Countless customers enjoy the 24-hour gas station and truck stop as a convenience. However, the amenities on the 8-acre expanse include, but by no means are limited to, a drive-thru beer store, a swimming pool with chlorine and a fountain (but no swimmers), and livestock, which include Texas longhorns that are at home, home on the range.
Asked why he put in a pool without intentions of using it, Benda said, “I thought it would be cool.” The pool at Fort Worth’s Joe T. Garcia’s influenced him. For safety, he always keeps the surrounding fence locked. Security works 24/7 throughout the campus.
Then, asked why he developed the ranch, he said, “I thought it would be cool, and we had eight acres available.” Does anyone see a pattern emerging?
The beer drive thru doubles as a convenience for the elderly and disabled, who enjoy driving through while the staff picks out the groceries they need and puts them in the car.
“Our 60 employees make it all happen,” Benda acknowledged. Parker added: “No two days are alike. Every day is interesting.”
Seldom letting grass grow under his feet, Benda’s adding another location in Lufkin, expected to open in December of this year. There will be additions to the menu, including fried pies for one.
Benda learned a strong work ethic from his dad early on, and understands that being creative while working long hours pays off. He started working for his dad, who was a builder and developer, when he was five. Summers he worked full time.
His parents also taught him positive family values. He remembers the importance, for example, of the whole family sitting down to dinner together every night. Benda has two sisters, Sondra and Betty (WW ’67). Benda and his wife, Marsha Benda, have been married 37 years. In addition to their son, Parker, they have twin daughters, Alex and McCall.
While earning a business degree from Covenant College, Benda knew he wanted to create a family business.
When we asked Parker why his dad is so successful, he replied: “While Dad’s really conservative, he’s also creative. He always pushes the envelope. Who else could turn a service station into the must-see it is today?”
Fuel City T-shirts are adorned with, “Fuel City, the ranch where dreams come true.” If John Benda has anything to say about it, your dreams certainly will.
For additional information, visit fuelcitywash.com.