STANLEY, N.D. — Mom would have a heart attack if she saw the pizza, Doritos and Mountain Dew her boy loads up on every day.
If he's an oil patch trucker, odds are pretty good that the gas station food he eats for lunch, snack and supper is loaded with fat, sugar and salt.
It's a nasty mix. But hey, it trips all the right taste buds.
Now imagine — if it's even possible to wrap your head around this picture — your local Cenex board hiring an executive chef who makes prime rib and lemon pepper-infused chicken and serves it right there in the red-and-white Cenex store for about $10.
It doesn't need to be imagined. It happened for real at the Stanley Cenex, owned by the Farmers Union Oil Co.
DUMPING THE JUNK
What truck drivers may not know is that junk food is calibrated to become an addiction. The more junk the driver eats, the more junk he wants to eat, because all that corn syrup and sodium become as addicting as cigarettes and alcohol, said Sakakawea Medical Center wellness consultant Bert Speidel.
And she said it won't be the mom who has the heart attack. It will be the trucker himself, if junk food and energy drinks are daily fare.
"They'll probably become diabetic and they'll definitely have heart disease and be overweight," Speidel said.
There's a reason why these stops are called convenience stores. And it's not like drivers can pull that semi up to a grocery store, or even many restaurants in these oil patch towns. Truck stop food is often the only option in a fast-moving life on a long open road.
Some truck stop owners feel their pain — at least the pain that presages a heart attack.
Two popular stops, one near the Killdeer roundabout and the other at Stanley on U.S. Highway 2, have raised the bar when it comes to food.
Caleb Pearsall, 26, originally of Florida and by way of Virginia, had been the youngest-ever executive chef at an Omni Hotel and Resort before moving to North Dakota last year.
"When I told them what I wanted to do, they said, 'Bring it on,'" he said.
What he brought on was good food.
"Fresh, homemade and real," he said.
Offerings at the Stanley Cenex include meals like homemade meatloaf or lasagna, served with vegetables and a fruit cup.
"I see way too much junk food. If I had my way, it would all be gone. The guys come to get real food, like what their mom made," Pearsall said.
At the Stanley Cenex, the food service starts with breakfast — including omelets with real eggs and vegetables.
"With the volume that we do here, the sky's the limit. We get 3,000 to 15,000 people through here (store) in 24 hours. Truckers aren't going to find a place with food like this any place else between Minot and Williston," Pearsall said.
Cenex manager Gary Koschmeder said smoked brisket and whiskey steak entice truckers to eat good food and add to the store's success.
The Stanley operation saw more than $150 million in sales last year and is building a $10 million fuel/convenience store in nearby Tioga.
Business is leveling off as the drilling frenzy is moving into the production mode.
"It isn't all bad," Koschmeder said.
KILLDEER GRAB 'N GO
Colin Waldner of Sioux Falls, S.D., owns a small, four-truck company, running tankers and fill-dirt loads in the oil patch.
Waldner stopped in at the new Grab 'n Go fuel and convenience store at the Killdeer roundabout intersection of state Highways 22 and 200.
The store is a huge upgrade from the old cramped one and just opened three weeks ago.
Waldner said he knows the typical trucker diet.
"A lot of guys are living off gas station food and a handful of energy drinks," he said.
The new Grab 'n Go caught his attention because of the quality of food and deli meats.
"There's no trans fats and it's gluten free," he said.
He tries to eat organic at home and ordered a turkey and provolone sandwich on multi-grain bread at the Grab 'n Go.
Co-manager Cordella Rychner said a lot of truckers are just now returning to the oil patch after a holiday slowdown and seeing the store for the first time.
"They love it," she said.
Her co-manager, Melissa Benz, said store owners consulted with a chef in the food service plans. The result is a kitchen and grocery-store style deli with fresh breads and specialty foods, including healthy salads and high-quality meats and cheese options for sandwiches.
"You should see how many salads these guys buy; fruit cups with mangos, blackberries and yogurt. There are a lot of healthy guys out there — they're trying, anyway," Benz said.
THE RIGHT STUFF
Speidel, the wellness consultant, said the right food matters.
"It matters what you eat when you're young because that's when the damage is done," she said.
Speidel advises keeping nuts, fruit and vegetables and protein bars in the truck and swapping green tea or water for pop. Moderation is everything, she said.
Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com