Buc-ee Creator Gives $50 Million to Texas A&M’s Hospitality Entrepreneurship Program

picture of arc

Arch “Beaver” Abelin III.

Jeff Wilson / Texas Monthly

Texas A&M University has announced that former student Arch “Beaver” Abelin 3 – one of the university’s most successful entrepreneurs – is contributing $50 million to an academic center that will serve as a learning laboratory for students.

“When a Beaver Aplin does something, he’s never halfway!” Texas A&M University System Administrator John Sharp said. “The love he has and shows for Texas A&M and Aggies is so inspirational and appreciative. This is a wonderful gift and will put Texas A&M University number one among the nation’s hospitality programs.”

The Aplin Center will provide a transformative experience for students through new undergraduate programs in hospitality, retail studies and food development including innovative degree programs including viticulture, brewing, coffee and food science. The facility will also house product development laboratories and gastronomic centers that can be used in partnership with related industries.

The center will include both outdoor and indoor recreational space for students, as well as retail and dining service areas run by students and faculty through educational programmes.

The Aplin Center will host corporate training and placement programs, along with professional development opportunities. Training of the workforce based on industry needs will be a major component of the Centre.

The primary academic partners will be the School of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Mays School of Business, although other academic units will be involved in specialized projects.

Texas A&M President Dr. M. Katherine Banks said the Abilene Center will allow more entrepreneurial activities for students across disciplines.

“Arch ‘Beaver’ Aplin is a true visionary and one of the most innovative entrepreneurs I’ve known,” Banks said. “He remains in touch with his university, and talks to many students who share his passion for business and product development. With this generous gift, he is creating a living learning lab that provides transformative opportunities for our students. The Aplin Center will positively impact Aggies for generations to come.”

Abelin said the banks’ vision for a world-class hospitality entrepreneurship program is “what Texas A&M needs and I’m proud to have the opportunity to participate.”

The 1980 graduate, who earned a degree in building sciences from A&M, opened his first Buc-ee school in Lake Jackson, Texas two years after he started. He built the iconic multi-million dollar company on numerous promises: clean restrooms, dozens of fuel pumps, a wide range of food and consumables, and well-paid employees.

“We want to create a space for learning and gathering on the A&M campus that exemplifies hospitality,” said Ablin. “A place where people gather. A place where Aji culture can flourish – a happy place.”

Aplin’s serious work ethic isn’t just limited to his work: he serves as Texas Parks and Wildlife Board Chair, is a member of the ERCOT Board Select Committee, is a life member of both the Coastal Preservation Association and the 100 Club of Brazoria County, and is a member On the Transportation Advisory Board and the Board of Directors of the Ex-Students Association.

Porter S. praised. Garner III 79, President and CEO of the Association, described Abelin as a true, humble leader who cares deeply about others.

“Beaver is a tremendous asset to the Association’s Board of Directors and to the global Aggie Network,” Garner said. “Everything he does is best in class, and I know the Aplin Center will be. This unprecedented gift is yet another testament to his deep love and affinity with Texas A&M and the Texas Ages.”

The former Brazosport Independent School Chairman has received numerous honors from his university, including the Outstanding Alumni of the School of Architecture and an MB Zale Visionary Merchant Award from the Texas A&M Center for Retail Studies. This fall, Aplin will be honored by the Mosbacher Institute at the Bush School of Government and Public Service with the McLean Leadership in Business Award for “inspirational entrepreneurship, business leadership, and commitment to serving critical needs in the communities he serves.”

While the Buc-ee empire initially distinguished itself from its competition based on clean bathrooms, quirky advertising and strong branding, it has grown into a strength by consistently implementing excellent customer service with the Buc-ee brand. Its motto: Exceeding customer expectations.

His stores offer health insurance to employees and pay more than double minimum wage, both of which are testament to a healthy business approach that pushes Bok-e into the stratospheric little store.

Aplin’s $50 million contribution to building the center that highlights his name is one of the biggest gifts A&M has received from a single donor.

The center, which will highlight jointly developed products, will be built across the street from the Texas A&M Hotel and Convention Center at the intersection of Wellborn Road and the pedestrian tunnel that serves as the main corridor for on-campus traffic and vehicular traffic, in the shadow of Kyle Field.

July 28th marks the 40th anniversary of Abilene’s opening of Buc-ee’s first gym. His business has expanded to five more states and five more states are being developed.

Aplin regularly returns to his university to talk to students. While at Mays Business School giving a talk in 2012, Aplin read from a letter a Florida Gators football fan wrote after visiting College Station. It conveyed how the fan experienced true friendliness and hospitality during his stay.

“It was pervasive and natural. It was the culture,” Aplin told the class, adding that he went back to craft for inspiration during pivotal moments at work. “I gotta remember—I gotta stay Beaver. I gotta stay Bok-E. I gotta stay Agie and I gotta stay the way I am.”