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People nationwide know about the Kentucky Derby, even if they have never been to a horse race. The Cincinnati South TA in Walton, Ky., home of the 1978 U.S. Triple Crown winner Steve Cauthen, is just 90 minutes from where the historic race is held at Churchill Downs in Louisville. At this last-chance stop for a full-service restaurant and other amenities before the race, the TA gives guests an early taste of the festivities by doing their own celebrating on Derby Day.
It’s one of the location’s busiest days of the year and employees make the best of it. They bring out their big, stylish hats, just like attendees at the actual race, and create an entertaining atmosphere for Derby-goers.
“Drivers love it and Derby-goers get involved,” says Country Pride Restaurant Manager Jennifer Wheeler. “They go and get their hats and join the celebration!”
The TA employees enjoy the celebrations too, making Derby Day an exciting and out-of-the-ordinary experience. The guests enjoy the site of the rolling hills of Kentucky as they sit outside to eat their meals and the TA employees keep on lookout just in case a celebrity going to the race stops by.
“We have a light-hearted atmosphere and like to have fun, but we’re serious about our work too,” says Store/Fuel General Manager Dave Dashner, adding that they enjoy helping guests test-drive toys from the store, like the remote control helicopters that quickly sell out.
The Kentucky Derby is just one of the days that the Walton, Ky. TA joins in celebrations. They gussy up for Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day and other special events too. The Kentucky Speedway is only 30 miles away, so since the TA serves as a last stop for those races too, employees will wear a t-shirt or hat of their favorite NASCAR driver.
All this adds up to the reason that guests keep coming back to the TA: the great, friendly staff.
“The team makes us different,” says Dashner. “We have people who have worked here 20 to 30 years and we have really loyal customers. Many make a point to come in regularly, even for just five minutes, to see their favorite employee. There are no strangers that come into our store. People coming from different places aren’t used to that.”
QSR Manager Dennis Compton almost always makes a “mean taco” at the store Taco Bell. Employees say there is no competition for his skill and Shop General Manager Gerrie Remines says Compton is dubbed the official “Taco King.”
Drivers can experience a little more comfort at the newly remodeled, spotless showers, which have giant, pulsing showerheads, as well as shampoo dispensers. The staff provides drivers with softer towels and may even set up a bouquet of flowers to brighten a long workday.
“We all have one common goal, to care about the customer’s needs in all departments,” says Wheeler. Customer service goes way back for a number of employees. Berttie Ferguson and Tonya Smallwood have over 30 years of service between them and have gained many loyal customers. Smallwood says that the regular guests often show their appreciation by bringing them gifts or homemade candy when they come through.
“It’s a comfortable environment to work in, everyone gets along and everything is always stocked and not piled up,” says Ferguson. “I wouldn’t have stayed so long if it wasn’t so great.”
If you’re on your way to the Kentucky Derby this year, make sure you stop in at exit 176 to join the pre-celebration fun and friendly service, but don’t forget your hat.