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If you build it, they will come: Sweet Crude Travel Center finds success at highway junction

Press Photos by Katherine Grandstrand The Sweet Crude Travel Center near the corner of U.S. Highway 85 and North Dakota Highway 200 south of Grassy Butte is seen Tuesday.

RURAL GRASSY BUTTE — The inspiration to build the Sweet Crude Travel Center came from research and planning, not voices from another world.

Yet, the truck stop built in a field in the middle of nowhere at the corner of two major Oil Patch roads — U.S. Highway 85 and North Dakota Highway 200, nearly equidistant from Belfield and Watford City, with Killdeer a bit closer — is a dream location for its owner.

“We just saw an opportunity out there,” owner Brett Narloch said. “Everybody could see what was happening in the western part of the state — the growth and the population and the traffic especially.”

The travel center combines a restaurant, clothing store, grocery store, gas station and campground at an oasis along a well-traveled road.

“We did a lot of research,” Narloch said. “We did a lot of talking to people in the oil industry to get a sense of where the movement was happening and how big this whole thing was going to get, because the reality is, this never would have happened if there was no oil boom.”

The research proved that the location was ideal for the type of center he wanted to build.

“I was actually looking at putting together a truck stop project around the Bismarck area, and then someone turned my attention towards the Grassy Butte-Fairfield area,” Narloch said. “It was kind of a no-brainer in one sense, because you’ve got all this traffic and there’s nothing there.”

Because there was nothing there, Narloch and company were responsible for putting up the infrastructure to support the business.

“Everybody you talk to is really, really grateful that we’re here because there was nothing around,” General Manager Rick Swank said.

Those driving truck in the Bakken typically act differently from long-haul truckers, Narloch said.

“Typically, when you think of trucking, they go from Atlanta to Seattle, and they stop at various places along the way,” Narloch said. “What we discovered is that the people in the oilfields, when they’re working, they’re stopping at the same gas station three times a day.”

This challenges the team to provide variety, Narloch said.

“As you can imagine, if you’re eating three meals a day at a truck stop, you can only eat pizza and hot dogs so many times,” Narloch said.

The truck stop offers a lunch and supper buffet, Champs chicken, gas station staples like hot dogs and pizza, fresh produce and several grocery offerings, Narloch said.

“We anticipated that a lot of people would come in and want to stock their trucks or their campers or whatever with typical grocery staples,” Narloch said.

There’s room for about 100 semis to park at Sweet Crude, although it’s more like 70 comfortably, Swank said.

“They’ll always know that there’s room at Sweet Crude Travel Center,” Narloch said of truckers. “You come down, you’re going to have a spot to stay.”

The rural location of the travel center is advantageous as well, Narloch said. Most convenience stores built in the past few decades were built for cars, not semi trucks.

“They didn’t need to have big parking lots, they didn’t need to have a whole lot of variety in their food,” Narloch said. “That was one advantage we had of coming into the market after the oil boom had started.”

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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