Archived Story

Kwik Trip likely to buy I-90 stop

Published 1:45pm Friday, January 3, 2014

AUSTIN — A Kwik Trip official confirmed this week that the company will likely buy Watts Cookin’ in Austin.

Although the company is still in the early stages of planning, Kwik Trip Inc. would likely build a $5-million, 6,000- to 7,000-square-foot truck stop, and eventually lease space to a restaurant and a hotel, according to Hans Zietlow, director of real estate at Kwik Trip. Zietlow said the company would keep its two other Kwik Trips open in Austin, and Watts Cookin’ would remain open during construction, as the new truck stop would be in a different location on the property.

Watts Cookin’, a landmark in Austin alongside Interstate 90, will likely sell to Kwik Trip. The chain will build a large truck stop in its place. --Eric Johnson/Albert Lea Tribune
Watts Cookin’, a landmark in Austin alongside Interstate 90, will likely sell to Kwik Trip. The chain will build a large truck stop in its place. –Eric Johnson/Albert Lea Tribune

While Kwik Trip officials hope they can finalize a deal soon, Zietlow said, it is still in negotiations.

“It’s not a done deal, but we are trying to buy it,” he said.

The Kwik Trip would employ 30 to 40 workers and sell compressed natural gas, or CNG, which the company sees as the fuel of the future, Zietlow said. While CNG can be used as an alternative to gasoline or diesel, only a small percentage of vehicles on the U.S. market run on CNG. The Austin truck stop would be one of only 19 Kwik Trips that sell CNG, according to its website, although that includes one in Rochester, Owatonna and Mankato, and a new Kwik Trip in Albert Lea will sell it this spring.

“We plan to upgrade an old facility into the nicest facility on Interstate 90 going across Minnesota,” Zietlow said.

The Watts truck stop and restaurant, which has 45 employees, would stay open during construction under owner Kermit Watts.

“No one else could run the restaurant like Kermit,” Zietlow said.

Kwik Trip, which would own about 5 additional acres, hopes to lease space to a sit-down restaurant and a hotel. A restaurant could occupy two acres and a hotel could take three acres, but, “It’s all kind of preliminary,” Zietlow said.

Watts said Tuesday he would comment further on the deal once it was finalized.

In December, Watts announced plans to close his 24-hours-per-day, 365-days-per-year business for the first and last time at the end of the month, unless he could work out an agreement with a buyer.

While Watts previously admitted there could always be a hiccup in the negotiations, he expects the deal to go forward.

Kwik Trip, founded in 1965 in Eau Claire, Wis., has more than 10,000 employees and about 450 locations in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, including about 110 in Minnesota, according to its website.