Columbia-It’s 6 a.m., and from the outside, the Deer Park store 8 miles south of Columbia looks like just another ordinary gas station. Many of the patrons driving the trucks parked in front of the station are not just there for a quick fill up. They are there to get the most famous bacon sandwich in Boone County — five strips, hot and greasy, on white or wheat bread, garnished as the customers order them.
Inside, the kitchen is open, and the bacon is sizzling. The store is part of many people’s morning routine. Patrons come with co-workers, walk through the chiming doors straight to the soda cooler and up to the food counter. Some stay to eat. Most take their to-go containers and soda bottles and get back on the road.
Sometimes the boxes are filled with bacon and eggs, other times, biscuits and gravy. But that’s an exception rather than a rule. The most popular item by far is the bacon sandwich, says store manager Lindsay McCall.
Rob Sherman stops on his way to work driving a Coring and Cutting truck and opts for the bacon and cheese sandwich on wheat. Every day. With an orange soda.
“Most places give you three or four pieces,” he said. “They give you five.”
At Deer Park, the sandwich goes for $2.29. Egg can be added for 30 cents.
This gas station/grill hybrid once started as a “ma and pop” store, McCall said. Two years ago, Break Time took over and changed the look and feel of the place. But the country cooking stayed.
Now, the Deer Park store is becoming a model for other Break Time stores planning to offer cooked items, McCall said. She added that representatives of stores planning to offer country cooking came to observe the workings of the Deer Park store last month. McCall helped get the endeavor off the ground by faxing menus and sharing words of wisdom.
The grill has proven rather lucrative for the store, although fuel still surpasses the bacon sandwich in sales, McCall said.
Leon Calvin, a farmer of 40 years who is now retired, sipped his coffee from the store corner on Monday morning, watching the masses and watching the sunrise. He, too, makes a daily stop at the Deer Park store. Sometimes he eats, but on most mornings, he just has coffee. And everyone knows him.
Regulars who live in the area and labor workers passing through town keep the cooks at the station busy. Many ask for standard grocery items, such as eggs, bread and cheese. It’s a request McCall hears often, and she hopes to accommodate them in order to increase sales and keep a consistent customer base.
“We’ve got a lot of regulars here,” McCall said. “We look forward to seeing the same people every day. We also look forward to seeing new faces.”
Approximately 1,000 customers ate at the store last week, according to McCall.
“We have anywhere from the high hundreds to the low thousands,” she said. “A lot of the people who eat food here are the regulars who come in anyway.”
Calvin, who is one of those regulars, said he would buy grocery items simply to avoid the drive to a market. He said he doesn’t care for the hustle and bustle of Columbia, dislikes traffic and tries to avoid the drive to Ashland. When he needs groceries, he picks the lesser of two evils: the Ashland grocery that’s quieter than Columbia stores.
Rusty Plunkett, an insurance agent from Deer Park, said a small grocery would have its appeal but that the beer, sandwiches and inexpensive gas are the biggest draw at the Deer Park store. Still, the “true Deer Park experience” can only be achieved by eating one of the famous bacon sandwiches, he said.