The truck stop/car wash/taco stand known as Fuel City has earned local and national attention for its tiny, tasty tacos that Texas Monthly named the best tacos in the Lone Star State. Of course, not everyone agrees that the tacos are all that. But, whether you think Fuel City's tacos are the best or just over-hyped, Roasted headed over to Fuel City on Monday morning to settle a more pressing question: How's the coffee?
But, instead of just sampling the mud for ourselves, we decided to ask a few of the truckers who pulled in to re-fuel what they thought of the truck stop's brew. After all, who would know more about coffee than those who depend on it for a living?
Though a few dismissed us with a head-shake at the do-you-drink-coffee question--seems some truckers prefer a tall-boy-size energy drink or a jumbo-size fountain drink--we did manage to talk to more than a dozen friendly truck drivers. Surprisingly, only some mentioned the taste of the coffee specifically, while the majority of them said the most important factors for the truck stop's java was that it be "hot" and "fresh."
And then there's the caffeine. Reggie Looney of Dallas said he's driven local and over-the-road hauls for 12 years. Looney said that caffeine--Roasted's favorite psychoactive alkaloid--was the driving force (sorry) behind his coffee consumption, but that when it comes to drinking a cup he was part of the "fresh and hot" majority. That's something that truck stops may be better at maintaining than say, your average corner convenience store or gas station. "People are always stopping in and getting coffee," Looney said. "So it's more likely to be fresh and hot."
And, keeping it fresh and hot is one of Fuel City's chief priorities, according to owner John Benda who told us that the coffee is brewed regularly to maintain its freshness. But, of course he'd say that. Keep reading after the jump for more opinions, and insight into the truck-stop coffee biz.
Fuel City's self-serve coffee bar is not unlike the set-up at the average gas station. It brews up coffees from Mother Parker's, an Ontario-based roaster/distributor with its U.S. office in Fort Worth. The coffee choices were either Colombian or "Regluar," which Roasted took to mean not-decaf. The signage describes the coffees as "medium" roasts, and, as such, should appeal to most average coffee hounds. Honestly, we had a hard time noticing much difference between the two, so the Colombian won by default.
The prices are good: $1.40 for a small and $1.50 for the large 16 oz. size, with refills for only 64 cents.
Outside to the diesel fueling station, several big rigs sat idling on the south side of the compound. It only took minute before Roasted spotted Melanie Parker and Susan Reynoso walking back to their truck with two cups of coffee and a plastic bag containing two Styrofoam containers of tacos.
Parker said that she's been hauling freight for the last five years. Currently, she drives for Comstar Enterprises a family-owned carrier service based out of Springdale, Arkansas. Parker said she hadn't heard of Fuel City's legendary tacos the first time she rumbled into the 8-acre complex. Her rig needed fuel, and, bingo, there was a truck stop.
But, nowadays, she makes a point of stopping at Fuel City anytime she's passing through Dallas. "We got tacos last night for dinner, and this morning for breakfast," Parker said.
OK, we know, we know, the tacos are worth writing home about. But how about the coffee?
"I want my coffee to be very strong and hot," Parker said. "And this fits the bill."
Ah, but how does Fuel City stack up with other truck stops?
"Pilot has the best coffee," she said, explaining that she's sampled coffee at truck stops from New York City to Atlanta to Seattle, and points in between. "Once you try [Pilot's coffee] you'll know what I mean, but this stuff, it's right up there with Pilot's."
And, after talking with a few more drivers who also gave the place top-notch reviews, we decided to ask owner Benda: Why Mother Parker's?
"Through trial and error, we settled on [Mother Parker's]," he told us, comparing the process of settling on a coffee supplier to "dating a girl." "I'm not married to [Mother Parker's], but I've been loyal to them for six or nine months now."
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For the last 11 years, he said Fuel City has been courted by several different coffee companies and suppliers, and he's been swayed to change numerous times. "They're very, very aggressive," he said. "They really want your business, and they all say they have the best coffee."
And, for him, choosing the "best coffee" for Fuel City's constant stream of customers comes down to two things: "taste and service." Well, taste and: "Service, service, service," as Benda emphasized.
"They sell me cups, and they bring the sugar and all the condiments," Benta said. And, if something goes wrong with one of the Bunn brewers and Fuel City calls it in for a repair, then having someone coming out in a few days or a week isn't good enough, he explained. "I need someone who can fix it that day."
"I have to have coffee," Benta added. After all, business is business, right?