Company News

Indie Closeup: A Cool Hand at Luke’s

With barbecue prowess, candy and homemade pies, ‘super little market’ thrives
Luke's One Stop
Photograph courtesy of Luke's One Stop

CISSNA PARK, Ill. — Bryan and Kari Luke of Luke’s One Stop in Cissna Park, Ill., were serious about making convenience retailing a major success story in the same spirit as becoming master grillers. In short, when you start something, continue it and end with a flourish.

The two competencies—the store and remote barbecue—became synergistic building blocks for what’s now a 40-year convenience-store operation that thrives by following its north star: “We’re not a supermarket, but a ‘super little’ market.”

For years, their participation in grilling contests across the Midwest and South (they retired from competition in 2018—their food truck is billed “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere!”) served as an easy advertisement to frequent their store, where superior barbeque is readily served.

Once at Luke’s One Stop, patrons can experience destination items that range from robust confections and homemade pies to goulash and pizzas made from scratch. On weekends, Luke’s One Stop sells 50 to 60 pies per night.

In addition to their barbecue prowess, Luke’s One Stop, which sells BP-branded fuel from three multi-pump dispensers, has won acclaim for its wide-ranging confection merchandising—much of it driven by deft price, promotion and display done in partnership with Hershey’s. “We’re across the street from a school, so selling candy is not much of an issue,” said Kari Luke.

The Luke’s and their employees keep focused by leaning on a fundamental daily credo that management implemented years ago: “We like to say that ‘if everyone does just a little work consistently then nobody has to do a lot’,” said Bryan Luke.

Model Students

Bryan and Kari Luke took an interest in creating a barbecue operation decades ago within their single convenience store, located about an hour north of Champaign, Ill., off Interstate 57.

The Luke’s interests piqued after meeting master griller Mark Lambert, the pit master of the Sweet Swine O’ Mine Competition BBQ team in Mississippi, and a bona fide expert in cooking Memphis BBQ.

“We met Lambert in Memphis, which plans the annual World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest every May,” Bryan Luke said. “Mark sold us a smoker and gave us lessons around the gold standard of barbecue.”

Soon after, the Luke’s entered a rib contest in Leroy, Ill.—and, on their first attempt, bagged first place for food and first for Kari Luke’s decoration scheme. “We soon realized that if we’re going to do this, then let’s be serious,” said Bryan Luke. “We entered 22 contests a year for several years. But we have two children and a grandchild, so in 2018 we opted to leave competitive barbecue for good.”

Concentrating on specialties such as pork, chicken, brisket and ribs, the Luke’s have been back in Cissna Park to concentrate on what they do best. “We built a commercial kitchen next door to the store and can churn out 120 racks of ribs at a time,” said Kari Luke. “We cook on a regular basis but don’t go overboard.”

Finish What You Start

One thing about Bryan Luke is that he takes instruction well. He took Lambert’s advice and proceeded to thrive for years at master barbecue. When he started in the convenience and petroleum industry in 1982, Luke took the most important advice from two key mentors.

“I worked for my uncle, Ralph David, who owned a grocery store nearby, and after college for a friend, Dale Puttle, who showed me the ropes about retailing. I was a 20-year-old kid at the time,” he said. Kari Luke came on board when she and Bryan started dating and has been a valued co-pilot ever since.

The couple is now informally planning a future beyond c-store retailing. The question is…when.

“We talked about moving aside [to retire] but we love what we do,” said Kari Luke. “How do you know when it’s time to get out? We’re in a precarious spot in that regard, in that we know it will come to an end—we just don’t know when. An offer might come to sell, and we’d have to listen.”

Luke’s One Stop Factoids

Fuel competencies: After 20 years with Phillips 66, the store has been BP-branded for 20 years. “We didn’t offer fuel at the outset, but a year later [1984] we saw the light and acquired the equipment,” said Bryan Luke.

“We don’t have any big box or grocery stores nearby, with the closest competition being a Casey’s seven miles away,” said Bryan Luke, adding that his store usually posts fuel just a couple cents higher than Casey’s—yet some locals still drive seven miles away to get the less-expensive gas.

Luke’s One Stop was the first local retailer to offer self-serve, first to offer pay at the pump and first to accept credit cards, said Kari Luke. “For locals here (population 800), that was a life- changing experience. It was a big deal to have a Phillips credit card.”

Approach to finding/retaining workers: All seven employees are part-timers who log less-than-eight-hour shifts per day. Of the seven, four have been at Luke’s anywhere from five to 25 years. There is no designated “store manager.” Speaking of employees sharing duties but also having vertical specialties, Kari Luke said, “One staff member takes care of freezers, another bakes homemade pies and one orders specialty items—and everyone fills in where they need to.”

Confection: “We do a lot of candy, a lot with Hershey’s. We have one double-sided aisle that’s close to 15-feet [of linear space],” said Bryan Luke. In addition to in-line and at the checkout, candy items take their place within seasonal power wing shippers.

Foodservice: In place of digital menu boards, Kari Luke and staff craft eye-appealing hand-written boards, updated daily. That’s where customers can see daily specials such as “Monday Pork sandwiches,” plus brisket, rib tips, burnt ends, homemade beef noodle soup, goulash, lasagna, potato salad, homemade pasta and broccoli salad. “When they see it’s homemade, it makes customers happy, and brings them back.” The quality of the offer allows foodservice sales to attain or exceed 7% month over month.

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a CSP member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


7 Eye-Catching New Beverages at the NECSEMA 2023 Trade Show

Manufacturers reveal new flavors, varieties and enhancements


Convenience Stores Speak Out Against New York Tobacco Proposals

Lawmakers reject flavored tobacco ban, accept cigarette tax increase, but negotiations not over yet


More from our partners