Buc-ee's origin story began in Louisiana at a general store in tiny Harrisonburg

Greg Hilburn
Shreveport Times

Arch "Beaver" Aplin III has made Buc-ee's a freeway phenomenon across much of the South since opening his first store in Texas in 1982, but his dream for the travel centers that today generate a fanatic following was born in the tiny Louisiana village of Harrisonburg in Catahoula Parish.

And after more than 40 years since founding his company, Aplin is planning to build the first Buc-ee's in Louisiana with a $50 million project on Interstate 20 in Ruston that was officially announced Jan. 9.

Though Aplin, whose mother nicknamed him "Beaver," grew up in Texas, he spent holidays and summers in Harrisonburg at his grandfather's general store. It was there that he sowed the seeds for what would become an empire. He came up with the name and logo by combining his nickname with the name of his beloved dog Buck.

"On Christmas Day my dad Arch Aplin Jr. (who is 97) was reminiscing with his grandchildren about growing up in the Aplin family general mercantile store in Harrisonburg, Louisiana," the Beaver said in a statement to USA Today Network. "For our family, opening a Buc-ee's in Louisiana is like coming home. We are very excited about Buc-ee’s coming to Ruston."

Harrisonburg High School Senior Jacob Thompson and Kathy Spann celebrate Buc-ee's day at the school Jan. 12, 2022.

The breakthrough for the Louisiana project in Ruston came when Aplin's first cousin Mary Mobley of Pineville connected Adam Terry with Beaver.

Terry, a Harrisonburg native who contracts with Ruston as the city's federal lobbyist, was a favorite student of Mobley's mother Grace Aplin, who taught sixth-grade history in Harrisonburg.

"It absolutely wouldn't have happened without Mary Mobley," Terry said. "I'd been trying for two years to make a connection. When she forwarded my letter to Beaver he emailed me the same day. After that, I knew I had to get him in front of (Ruston Mayor) Ronny Walker because I knew Ronny could put together the deal and close it."

Students at Harrisonburg School celebrate Buc-ee's day on Jan. 12, 2022 by wearing their Buc-ee's gear.

"Two individuals who held a special place in my mother's heart were Adam Terry and Beaver," Mobley said. "The decision was based on knowing my mother would have wanted me to help open the door for Adam and Beaver to connect."

Though the Buc-ee's boon will directly benefit Ruston, the people of Harrisonburg are embracing their history and the company's roots.

The Alpin Harrisonburg general store building is long gone, but older residents still remember it.

"They sold everything - feed and seed, groceries and clothes like a lot of country stores," said Steve Gibson, an unofficial village historian who said the store closed in the 1960s.

Harrisonburg High School celebrated Buc-ee's day on Jan. 12, 2022.

When the community learned that a reporter was visiting the village to explore Buc-ee's origin story, Principal Brenda Higdon at the K-12 Harrisonburg School announced they would celebrate Buc-ee's day and encouraged students and teachers to wear Buc-ee's gear.

An inflated Buc-ee's mascot was displayed at the school entrance and the school sign proclaimed: "Thank you Arch "Beaver" Aplin for believing in Louisiana. Let's Go Buc-ee's!"

Jordon Hudspeth said Beaver's grandfather bought the Harrisonburg store from her great-grandfather.

"It's really super cool; it's neat to know that we have a connection to this great story with our community and family," Hudspeth said.

Here comes Buc-ee's:Buc-ee's is coming to Louisiana: Here are the details of the project

Harrisonburg High School Senior Jacob Thompson wore a full-fledged Buc-ee's Beaver costume to school Thursday.

"I've learned more about the Harrisonburg connection lately, but my favorite thing about the store is the Buc-ee's Beaver Nuggets," said Thompson, referring to the company's No. 1 selling snack, crunchy corn nuggets with a brown sugar caramel coating.

"We're pumped up about the Ruston store," teacher Amie Bruit said. "We plan our vacations around Buc-ee's stops."

That vacation stop will be less than two hours away from Harrisonburg when Buc-ee's opens its 53,000-square-foot Ruston travel center in 2025, complete with 120 gas pumps, endless varieties of meat jerky, famous tender brisket and what the company advertises as the cleanest restrooms in America.

Buc-ee's director of real estate Stan Beard paid homage to the company's Louisiana roots and Beaver when he announced the project at the Ruston City Council meeting.

"(Harrisonburg) is literally where he got the dream to own a general store himself and he's done pretty well," Beard said. "We're all excited to be here."

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.