The trucks stop here (and the locals, too)

• Great service keeps the Jubitz travel center going strong for 50 years

Al Jubitz sat in his travel center's restaurant recently and tried to determine how many of his customers are actually truck drivers.

From a back booth, the co-president and chief executive officer of the Jubitz Corp. surveyed the massive Cascade Grill dining room, a 10-second pause punctuated by the clatter of stacked dishes, the down-home sounds of country singer Alan Jackson and the unmistakable coffee shop aroma of java and grilled cheese.

'Hmm, I'd say 50 to 70 percent is local,' he finally offered. 'It's hard to tell.' Jubitz summoned a server. 'Lori? What percentage of our business is local?' Jubitz asked.

She paused as long as her boss. 'I'd say about 40 percent of our business is truckers,' Lori said.

Jubitz did the math. 'I like it when I'm dead on,' he said.

For the past 50 years, 'dead on' describes most Jubitz calculations. Few, if any, single-location travel centers ('We wanted to get away from the term 'truck stop,' although people still call it that,' Al Jubitz conceded) can boast annual sales ranging from $60 million to $70 million while remaining profitable.

And as it celebrates its golden anniversary, much of the company's success comes from its ability to lure not only truckers but its Portland neighbors as well.

Lisa Mullings, vice president of public affairs for the Alexandria, Va.-based National Association of Truck Stop Operators, said most of her group's members attract between 20 percent and 30 percent 'non-trucker' business.

'They probably draw more local business because they're not directly off the interstate,' Mullings said, noting Jubitz's North Portland locale off Marine Drive. 'But they're also very innovative, they're a very strong independent operator in a business that's served mostly by chains.'

Jubitz also is an innovator in that the travel center has successfully spawned ancillary businesses Ñ enterprises ranging from a barbershop to a truck load/driver matchmaking service Ñ that redefine parameters of the typical truck stop.

An ear for customers

Monroe Jubitz, father of Al and his brother Fred, who is the company co-president, opened Fleet Leasing Inc., the company's original venture, in 1952. The trucking outfit quickly outgrew its Ross Island Bridge location, and in 1958 Monroe Jubitz moved the operation to North Portland.

There, he built the 22-seat Jubitz Cafe and began chatting regularly with customers at the diner's counter. While the fleet leasing company closed, thanks to competitive pressures, the cafe provided the cornerstone for future Jubitz endeavors.

'He'd sit at the counter and not identify himself, so he'd get honest feedback,' Fred Jubitz recalled. 'Then he'd come over and talk to his sons.'

The truckers told the Jubitzes, in effect, that they wanted more variety in their layovers. They bemoaned that in other places, shower facilities Ñ a truck stop necessity Ñ were usually filthy. They asked for more services related to health, a more palatable food selection and perhaps a convenient haunt where they could enjoy a beer before hitting the road the next day.

Monroe Jubitz delivered, creating a veritable wonderland of a travel center that requires 250 full- and part-time employees, six addresses and, across its 30-acre sprawl, two ZIP codes.

Along with the 250-seat Cascade Grill, with its 'First Gear' breakfast of corned beef hash and the $8.49 Roast Tom Turkey special, the Jubitz Travel Center includes a 10-lane fueling facility, a tire and retreading service, the 100-room Portlander Inn, the Ponderosa Lounge ('Live music every night,' said Al Jubitz) and, of all things, an 80-seat movie theater.

'I love the theater,' said Larry Brown, a Fond du Lac, Wis., driver who stops at Jubitz on all his West Coast jaunts. 'You never see that at any other truck stops.'

A clean getaway

Monroe Jubitz also injected a bit of dignity into his vision, adding a small medical center, chiropractic services, a chapel and, yes, private shower facilities that are cleaned after each use.

Cleanliness, indeed, provides the center's major theme. Laundromat workers will wash and dry truckers' togs for a mere $2 per load; a $250,000 cigarette/cigar smoke-removal system installed in the Cascade Grill last year allows for easy breathing and unimpeded eating.

Jubitz, though, has far exceeded the retail services realm. For example, it started Ñ and eventually sold Ñ DAT Services, which ensures that truckers carry full loads on both legs of their routes, saving them from making costly empty-load runs.

Fred Jubitz said such developments came from his father's willingness to reinvest the center's profits, as well as to listen.

'He could relate to a truck driver as well as he could to a banker,' Fred Jubitz said of his father, who retired in 1996 and died in 2001.

'That was one of his real strengths in building the business. He was a modest guy, he was humble and he liked to hear what people had to say.'

The center also has attracted its share of celebrity diners. Then Vice President George Bush stopped in during a 1984 campaign swing. And Gov. John Kitzhaber celebrated his 55th birthday in a Jubitz conference room.

Contact Andy Giegerich at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..