“Family” is a word that is heard frequently heard at the Iowa 80 Truckstop. After all, the “World’s Largest Truckstop” has been a part of the trucking family since it was founded by Bill Moon back in 1964. In fact, the Moon family still owns and operates the facility.
But it’s not just the Moon family that carries on the tradition of taking care of travelers. When the truck stop opened, the restaurant, known as the Iowa 80 Kitchen, was operated by William and Ruth Peel. Their son, Bill Peel, also made a career at the restaurant — and the Peel family has been feeding visitors ever since.
Today the Kitchen is run by William and Ruth’s grandson, Jeff Peel. Other members of the Peel family work in the full-service restaurant or manage one of the fast food franchises located in the truck stop.
“We now have several family members involved,” Jeff said, adding that his cousin, Jim Peel, manages the Taco Bell and Pizza Hut Express concessions. Another cousin, Christina Hahn Peel, works at the Iowa 80 Kitchen.
The food offerings at the Iowa 80 Truckstop rival the food courts in malls anywhere. Drivers can choose from their favorite fast-food brands including Dairy Queen & Orange Julius, Pizza Hut Express, Taco Bell and Wendy’s. Coffee connoisseurs can get their fix at Caribou Coffee, which shares a location with Einstein Bagels. Both the Iowa 80 Kitchen and the Wendy’s are 24-hour operations.
The Peels aren’t the only family serving at the Iowa 80 Kitchen.
“We have generations of family employees that have been here,” Jeff said. “Today, on our wait staff, we have a mother-and-daughter team working side by side. We might even have grandkids of somebody that worked with my grandfather.”
There are families among the customers, too.
“We’ve heard stories from local people who came to the restaurant with grandparents, or drivers who told us their dad brought them here on a trip,” Jeff said.
Holidays are big days at the Iowa 80 Kitchen.
“Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, Easter, Christmas — we usually put on a special buffet that has a lot of the holiday fixings on it,” said Rick Denny, the Iowa 80 Kitchen’s general manager.
“They happen to be some of our busiest days of the year. We’re the only place in town that’s open, and more people are eating out on the holidays so they come out and enjoy the same food they would cook at home,” Denny continued. “Drivers are very appreciative of us being open on those days and having the traditional foods available to them.”
One event that brings a holiday atmosphere to the Kitchen is the annual Walcott Truckers Jamboree. The three-day event brings thousands of visitors to participate in the many scheduled events — and those visitors are hungry. Since Iowa is the No. 1 pork producing state in the nation, the event includes a Pork Chop Cookout that serves more than 5,500 chops, nearly 6,000 chicken sandwiches and 1,000 hot dogs each year. The restaurants are busy during the Jamboree, too, serving those who prefer a fast-food or a sit-down experience.
The grills operate from 11 a.m. until 8:30 p.m., so many visitors to the Jamboree are fed multiple times during the three days of the festival.
“We do the grilling with our own staff, plus a lot of volunteers from the community,” Denny said. “We have to staff the restaurants during that time as well, so it’s a very busy weekend.”
One of the volunteer groups is a local Boy Scout troop. The Scouts can work towards earning merit badges for their work, and the Iowa 80 makes a donation to the troop in return.
The Jamboree also provides an opportunity for the team to meet the drivers they serve all year at the restaurants.
“At the Jamboree, getting out there and seeing a different side of everything gets you excited about what you’re doing. It helps us relate more to our customers,” Jeff said. “We’re out in the open, and anybody can walk up and give us their thoughts or share a story.”
Keeping the grills going during the Jamboree has led to some interesting experiences for the team.
“Weather is usually the determining factor on how the day is going to go,” Jeff said. “One year it was so hot, and the parking lot had been recently coated, and a guy’s tennis shoes actually melted. The rubber sole of the shoe came off and stuck to the pavement.”
Another year brought torrential rain to the Jamboree.
“We were standing in more than a foot of water, standing on pallets trying to finish the pork chops,” Jeff said. “We were trying to figure out what to do. We were wondering if we should cancel the day. Luckily, the crew unclogged a drain and the water was soon gone. We were back up and running.”
When visitors arrive for the Jamboree, a holiday dinner or just for a routine stop, the Iowa 80 Kitchen family — and the Peel family — will be here to make sure they are well fed.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.