By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor.
Slovacek’s, a sausage company turned c-store, celebrated the grand opening of its newest location in West, Texas. At a whopping 22,000 square feet, the convenience store is open 24-hours a day, and features a host of amenities, including a specialty meat market, a bakery, a food café, a dog park, indoor and outdoor seating and a drive-through.
Headquartered in Snook, Texas, Slovacek’s was founded in 1957 as a sausage business, created by a man known to locals as “Uncle John” Slovacek, who was one of 12 children. In 1985, Uncle John’s nephew took over the business and sold it in 1995 to Tim Rabroker, who owns it today.
“The sausage business had previously been successful opening up small c-stores adjacent to the sausage making plants, so I did the same thing, opening our first convenience store in 2006 in Snook, Texas,” Rabroker said.
The new West, Texas location marks the company’s second convenience store. Slovack’s had the opportunity to acquire a four-year-old building measuring 14,000 square feet that had previously housed a restaurant with an attached meat market. “We gutted it and increased the overall square footage to just shy of 22,000 square feet,” Rabroker said.
The remodel took more than 24 months, from acquisition to opening day on Nov. 15. Not only did the location need to be gutted and fitted with all new plumbing, but in the middle of construction, the explosion at a West, Texas fertilizer plant that killed 15 people and injured hundreds, rocked the town of West, which is home to some 2,800 residents.
“We slowed down work and were part of the relief effort,” Rabroker said. “All the local grocery stores were already our customers. They asked us to do things and we just pitched in and did it, so we became an even tighter community very fast. These people have greeted us with open arms and they’re great salt of the earth people. The city manager who helped us so much was also in the fire department and he lost is life in the explosion. People in West wear many hats. We have over 110 employees and half were directly affected by the explosion.”
Being a “sausage company first,” Slovacek’s goal in opening a c-store in West was to expand its reach and keep its sausage brand top of mind with customers. “We’re a regional brand here. When customers see the two pigs on our sign, they think of our sausage,” Rabroker said.
Slovacek partnered with Paragon Solutions, which handled the overall design and flow of the store, including exterior and interior, equipment, bakery and meat market, lighting, graphics, custom millwork, branding and signage.
The design incorporates some objects and reclaimed wood from the old steakhouse in an effort to embrace the history and heritage of West and combine it with modern touches for an urban industrial meets country contemporary design that also celebrates the Czech heritage.
“We told Paragon Solutions, we want to do a bakery because West is famous for its baked goods, and we want to have nice restrooms and offer a meat market,” Rabroker said. “But we also wanted the store to have a homey feel, but with a little bit of an edge to it. They embraced the challenge and did a great job.”
The store’s features include:
• The Kissing Pig Café: A full-service, made-to-order deli, featuring fresh sandwiches, paninis and wraps made on site by a gourmet chef. “We like to say it resembles a Subway, but is a little more artisan. For example, we have Portobello mushroom sandwiches, a Reuben, and a smoked salmon option—all really good quality made fresh right in front of you,” Rabroker said.
• Meat Market: A full-scale meat counter houses fresh cut beef, chicken, pork, cured sausage and other premium and specialty meats.
• Dog Park: Located behind the store, the dog park is an expansive pet arena where dogs can play off-leash in a fenced area that offers state-of-the-art jungle gym equipment. “There are dogs everywhere in West, so we thought, let’s have a place where customers can exercise their dogs. We have teeter-totters for the dogs, and we have a large and a small dog area, and water for the dogs,” said Rabroker.
• Freshly-Prepared Baked Goods: The bakery is home to an array of fresh pastries, desserts and breads—from Czech-style kolaches to muffins and cookies—all handmade in-store by the on-site pastry chefs.
• Laura Belle’s Frozen Yogurt: Numerous frozen yogurt flavor options plus a toppings bar, featuring over 14 different treats, like seasonal, hand-cut fruit as well as healthy granola and nuts, greet customers.
• Drive-Through: Convenient for commuters, most of the store’s menus from The Kissing Pig Café and the bakery are available at the drive-through. “This is our answer for people who are pressed for time and don’t want to get out of their cars,” Rabroker said. “We have some good, stick-to-your ribs foods, but we have a lot of health conscious foods that are all available for these on-the-go customers.”
• Gift Shop: A large selection of novelty items and store gear are available for purchase, from sweaters to fruit preserves.
Snook and West both have a strong population of Czech and German residents. Being German himself, Rabroker understands the need to cater to this demographic. “We’re losing a lot of our cultures— whether it’s German or Czech or Polish—and we saw an opportunity to keep the old way going,” he said.
The beer cave is adorned with 5,000 beer caps and the word “ Tieo,” which stands for beer in Czech. Over one door a sign reads, “Jak se mas?” or “how are you?” Over another door it reads “Welcome Everyone” in Czech.
While most of Slovacek’s employees already know a handful of words in Czech, others are learning in order to greet customers in their native language.
“Customers in their 50s, 60s, 70s; they come in and see those signs and then our employees respond to them in Czech and most of them are floored. It puts a smile on your face when you see that,” Rabroker said.
For now, Slovacek is happy with its two stores, but the door is open for additional growth in the future. “What we’re learning here in the West store will help with our future plans at our Snook location, where we’re planning to do a remodel in the near future,” Rabroker said. “We want to make sure we keep our hands on our operations and our sausage quality. I think you can get too big and spread too thin where you can lose touch with your roots. I think we’re a good size now, but we’ll see.”