Carl’s Corner Grand Opening

Photo of Willie Nelson performing at Carl’s Corner, Willie’s Place Nightlife Theater on 2/25/09, by Janis Tillerson, from Texas

In what has been billed as the ultimate Texas truck stop, Carl’s Corner near Hillsboro this week opened a trio of additions to Willie’s Place, the 13-lane fueling station and convenience store featuring Texas icon Willie Nelson’s own brand of biodiesel and all things Willie.

The Blue Skies Cafe, The Whiskey River Saloon and the Night Life Theater — all named for Nelson songs — now complement the truck stop with food, drinks and entertainment.

They opened officially with a two-day series of events this week featuring Nelson and the Austin Western swing band Asleep at the Wheel that drew hundreds of people each night from as far away as Louisiana and Alaska.

What’s there

Blue Skies has all the traditional trucker comfort food: steaks, barbeque, burgers, chicken-fried steak, sandwiches and breakfasts that General Manager Tom Drinnen says will keep them coming back. Plans are to have the cafe open 24 hours soon.

Whiskey River offers the ambience of an Old West bar. The entrance features the popular Dancing Frogs that once sat atop the old truck stop that was torn down to make way for Willie’s Place. The frogs, by artist Bob Wade, danced above the Dallas nightspot Tango in the early 1980s but moved to Carl’s after a dispute over signage grounded them.

Night Life can hold 500 patrons and provides an intimate setting for performers. Night Life plans to announce an extensive lineup of shows. The theater also includes a studio that was used to broadcast Nelson’s opening-night concert live.

What’s Carl’s

Carl’s founder Carl Cornelius and partner Steve Gilcrease joined Nelson and others to turn their vision of a Texas destination into reality.

Cornelius opened the original Carl’s Corner Truck Stop, about 50 miles southeast of Fort Worth on Interstate 35E just north of Hillsboro, in 1986 with not much more than a house trailer and some diesel pumps. He incorporated the land into its own township the same year so he could sell liquor.

Cornelius says that after he talked up Carl’s on the CB radio, it soon became a regular stop for truckers rolling on I-35. After several incarnations and rebuilding after a major fire in 1990, Carl’s became the definitive truck stop between the Metroplex and points south.

When his old pal Nelson started a biodiesel company in 2004, Carl’s was viewed as the perfect place to get it up and running. A partnership with Earth Biofuels allowed expansion of the distribution of the so-called BioWillie, and in summer 2006, demolition of the old Carl’s began.

Willie’s Place opened in July with modern truck-stop amenities, including 13 lanes for fueling and hot showers. Nelson’s BioWillie brand, a premium blend diesel and biodiesel fuel, is sold, as are ethanol and conventional diesel for truckers. Gasoline is available for cars at separate lanes.

What’s ahead

Gilcrease and Cornelius may not be finished with Willie’s Place, but for now they are content to see the business take shape. Gilcrease has a half-dozen relatives on the staff, and Cornelius’ wife, Linda, has been working with Blue Skies. No immediate plans are in the works, however.

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