TOLAR — Jay Meyer’s philosophy for success is about as simple and straightforward as it gets.
“Get up early and go to bed late,” said the Tolar rancher and former school board president who has owned and operated Meyer’s Kwik Stop since 1986.
The gas station/convenience store/restaurant is a staple in the Tolar community and a gathering place for ranchers who like a hot breakfast at the crack of dawn.
“At four o’clock in the morning, you can walk in the back and see 10 old ranchers back here, telling all the gossip they have to tell,” said Meyer’s stepdaughter, Angie Rushing, who became the store’s manager a couple weeks ago after having been away from the family business for a while.
Younger generations fuel up at Meyer’s as well, both at the gas pumps and the food counter. Former Precinct 1 Commissioner James Deaver, a fellow Tolar rancher who went to school with Meyer, said that Hood County employees who live in Tolar often grab a to-go breakfast at Meyer’s on their way to work.
The little town in southwestern Hood County may soon leave “little” in the rearview mirror. Like Granbury and Cresson, it’s growing fast. During the daybreak breakfast rush on a recent Friday, U.S. Highway 377 and streets that feed into it were congested with drivers taking kids to school and heading to work.
Born in Glen Rose in 1960, Meyer’s family moved to Tolar when he was a young boy. He attended Tolar schools in every grade.
The family contributed to the community and, with Meyer’s Kwik Stop, continues to do so. The Meyers have fed people for 50 years, dating back to 1973 when the family owned a café “in the middle of town, where the old post office was,” according to Meyer. It caught fire and burned, he said, so the family moved the café to a new location, where First National Bank is today.
“Then the rent got a little high there,” he said, “so Mom bought the corner, where we’re at right now.”
“The corner” is 8315 U.S. Highway 377, a prime location for locals driving to and from work and for folks passing through.
“Mom” is Gayle Meyer Nye, former Tolar mayor. Meyer’s grandfather, J.D. Sargent, was once mayor of Tolar, too.
Meyer himself served the town as an elected official. He was on the school board for about 20 years and served as its president for five or six years before stepping aside so that a younger generation could have a turn.
“When we got into school, he decided that he was going to make sure the school was right for us, so that’s why he was on the school board,” Rushing said about her stepfather’s love for his children. “It’s just how he is.”
A unique aspect of Meyer’s Kwik Stop is that its menu features meat from Meyer’s 500-acre ranch.
One customer who wrote an online review posted: “Sat down to eat and had a really good burger and some really good crinkle cut fries, with an ice cold Dr. Pepper. In a town with not many choices it’s actually a pretty damn good option. Get a double meat with cheese, jalapeno, bacon and all the veggies. Can’t go wrong. They make it to order, so everything is fresh and hot when it comes out to you.”
Customers can purchase a variety of breakfast burritos containing combinations of bacon, sausage, eggs, cheese, jalapenos, and potatoes. There are biscuits, too, and hashbrowns. Don’t want a burrito? Employees can get you set up with eggs over easy or whichever way you like them.
Later in the day, in addition to hamburgers, customers can order a variety of sandwiches — Philly steak, chopped barbecue, chicken, and chicken fried steak — as well as Crispitos, corndogs, egg rolls, meat pies, chimichangas, fried chicken, chicken tenders, and French fries. Sometimes, when there is enough staff, there is even fresh fried fish.
Sometimes, Meyer’s offers food that is not on the menu or on the shelves in the convenience store. Deaver said it is common for Meyer to allow kids or others involved in local fundraisers to set up tables outside the store.
“He does that even though it hurts his business,” said Deaver, referring to possible lost sales.
Michael Mittelstet, a member of the Tolar Education Foundation board of directors, said that Meyer is a supporter of the TEF and has pledged to provide fish for the April 22 “Taste of Tolar” fundraiser at LC Ranch. There will be a fish fry and live entertainment.
The generous donation is not a surprise to Deaver.
“He’s always been good to kids and the school district,” he said.
Meyer may have been willing to let a younger generation run the school board, but Rushing’s new title of store manager doesn’t mean he’s stepping back from the business he has run for decades.
“No, probably not,” he replied when asked if he was going to lighten up his schedule. “I mean, I’m there every morning. Every morning. Been there every morning since 1984, or whatever.”
Actually, by Rushing’s calculations, the year might have been 1986. She said that she believes her grandmother opened the store in 1978 and her dad bought it from her when he was 26.
Meyer was there before dawn on a recent Friday, stressing because an employee was a no-show when they were already short one staffer. According to Rushing, for some reason Friday is the busiest day for breakfast.
“We normally have three (employees) come in around three o’clock in the morning to start prepping,” she said. “For Fridays we need to have about five employees because we get so busy. I guess everybody treats themselves on Friday.”
The brief crisis involving the no-show employee happened during Rushing’s first week as manager, but the 2002 Tolar High School graduate indicated that in the end it was no big deal.
“We also have a core group of employees that I can count on that have been with us for a while and they love my dad,” she said. “Like Harry. I called him. He normally doesn’t get up this early. He doesn’t work the morning shift. And he was, OK, I’ll get up and get ready. We have those employees that are 100% loyal to my dad.”
Rushing doesn’t just share her stepdad’s business responsibilities, she also shares his work ethic.
“My work hours are from sunup until I’m not needed,” she said.
Among other duties, Rushing makes sure the kitchen is stocked, shelves are filled, vendors and employees are paid, and staff schedules are posted. Her life today, with so many responsibilities, is far different from her carefree days as a kid when she viewed the store as an “awesome” place to be.
“It’s just been a staple in the community for forever,” she said. “It’s my dad’s, so that’s a main reason why (customers) show up. You can ask anybody and they love my dad. He’s just a good ol’ boy that everybody loves. So, people knowing that this is locally owned and run is a lot of the reason why they support it. Dad does a whole lot for the community. He donates. I mean he’s one of those who’ll give you the shirt off his back if you ask him.”
Meyer’s laidback, country-boy manner seems to fit Tolar’s essence.
“Everybody’s a-working,” he said of his neighbors. “We’re all pretty much blue collar on this end. I mean, I guess sometimes my place ain’t the cleanest, but when all those boys come through about five o’clock or five-thirty, I mean the floor looks really nice at five o’clock and by noon it looks like you’ve run a herd of goats through that joint ‘cause everybody’s got mud on their feet and grease and everything. But we’re all working.”
Meyer isn’t one of those people who grouses about growth and new people moving into town.
“Everybody’s coming here because it’s a good place to be,” he said. “You ain’t got to worry about the kids. I mean, you’ve always got to worry about the kids but you ain’t got to worry about them as much here because everybody pretty much knows everybody. Not as much as they used to, but everybody watches out for everybody over here.”
When asked what Meyer’s Kwik Stop means to Tolar, Meyer turned the question around.
“It’s not what Meyer’s means to them, it’s what they mean to me,” he said. “I mean, they’re the ones that keep that joint running. It don’t belong to me, it belongs to the community.”