In 1998, a drive around town during one of his lunch breaks led John Benda to a patch of land and a big idea.
Benda, a veteran of the convenience store business, was cruising along Industrial Boulevard in downtown Dallas when he came across a plot of property for sale at the intersection of Industrial Boulevard and R.L. Thornton Freeway.
The image of the Texas he grew up on came to mind, and the seedlings of Fuel City were born.
“I thought wouldn’t it be cool to build a store to make money and then to make it look like a ranch, and do it in downtown Dallas,” says Benda, who happened across the plot during a lunch break while on jury duty.
Today, his vision has turned into a quirky establishment that represents the best of Texas. The property includes a model of an oil well, and longhorns and donkeys graze in the back of the property as country hits blast from the stereos. This one-of-a-kind convenient store brings the country to the heart of a metropolis.
“Fuel City is in an interesting part of downtown, but completely worth the trip,” says Zane Cavender, a Fuel City customer.
The Dallas County Jail is less than a mile and a half away,but Benda assures people that there has never been any problem.
“Fuel City is safe as far as a quick trip,” says Dallas Area Rapid Transit Police Officer Tomasa Williams. She recommends not lingering around in the evenings because there are some unsafe- looking characters, but at night it’s the safest place to be if you are in the area.
In 2009, there were 4,069 aggravated assaults and 41,481 larceny- thefts in the area, according to Movoto.com.
Benda opened Fuel City in 1999, and ever since then it’s been one of Dallas’s “must-see” stops, recognized by publications like the Dallas Observer, Texas Monthly and even television networks like the “Travel Channel” and “Fox News”.
“It’s a ranch, it’s a convenience store, it’s a truck stop, and it’s a fueling depot for the city of Dallas,” says Benda. He even has a 100-year-old windmill on the property, an antique.
On Fridays and Saturdays from 3 to 7 p.m. there is a karaoke machine said Elissa Cabrales, an employee of Fuel City. “It’s a good place to be.”
The store also boasts a carwash and swimming pool located just a few steps from the front entrance.
“I use to have girls sit out there in the summertime to lure men into the store,” says Benda.
Benda pride’s himself on a diverse customer base that he said he has developed.
“We are blended,” says Benda. “People from lower income, middle income, and higher income. Everybody comes to Fuel City.”
What Williams loves most about Fuel City, other than the fact that she met her husband during a visit there, is the variety of people that stop by.
“People from anywhere and everywhere.”
Delia Costilla, who has worked for Benda for over 15 years, says that one of her favorite aspects of working at Fuel City is also seeing the different people that visit the store on a daily basis.
“Fuel City is the place to be with family, “ says Costilla. “I try to tell the cashiers to be really friendly, and I think they’ve done their job. They are really friendly and polite.”
The fact that the place is packed with customers and the car wash’s multiple lanes are 5 cars deep on a recent Monday may be a testament to the store’s success.
Fuel City claims fame by its tacos. After discovering a woman who’s grandmother’s taco recipe was hard to beat, Benda decided to lease out space in his store to sell them.
“She sells more tacos, you know, thousands of tacos a day,” he says. “It’s 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week. Late night we’re packed!”
Cavender says that the tacos were some of the best he’s ever had.
“And I’m from Texas!”
Fuel City also offers corn served in a cup. Butter, sour cream, hot sauce, cheese, and cayenne pepper are just a few of the toppings that one can add to personalize the corn snack. The concept originated in Mexico, yet this treat has caught on fast in Dallas.
“When you come to Fuel City you get the tacos and the corn. You gotta have the corn!” says Cabrales. “It’s an addiction!”
“Most American people look at it and they are just like what is that? Corn? But after they taste it they see the difference. They just keep coming back!” says Cabrales.
Benda along with his son, Parker, 26, manage Fuel City. Benda says that he wanted to make this venture a family business in order to provide an income for his family and his family’s families.
When asked what is next, Benda mentions his desire to expand outside the metroplex.
“There’s a piece of land that we found that we’re working on to do another Fuel City.”
After 12 years of running the business, Benda now sits nestled atop the store in his rustic office loft that he built, relaxed on his leather couch, his back to a floor -length window overlooking downtown Dallas.
“I feel real good about where I’m at so, I just enjoy everything now,” he says.
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