It's All Cinnamon Rolls And Business Lessons As Johnson's Corner Changes Hands
There's an old saying in the business world. People are paid with two coins: cash and experience. If that's true, then the well-known truck stop in Johnstown, Johnson's Corner, has made owner Chauncey Taylor a rich man. Now he’s packing up his office and handing over the keys to his business and cinnamon roll empire to TravelCenters of America. But he's taking the life lessons he learned from decades of work with him.
Those lessons came from one man: founder Joe Johnson.
"He taught us how to bus tables, how to clean restrooms. He taught me a lot of things to this day that have such an impact because I was able to watch him as a 12-year-old," said Taylor.
It was back in the 1950s that Johnson saw the need for truck stops. He started five Johnson's Corner stops back then, although the Johnstown location is the only one that remains. As a longtime-Loveland resident, Taylor started bussing tables there as a teenager. He said he was always impressed when interacting with owner Joe Johnson.
"He was famous for scraping the gum off the floor," said Taylor, remembering how customers would sometimes walk over Johnson to get in the front door. "Joe never once got into someone's face saying, 'You don't know who you're talking to.'"
That connection to Joe Johnson later became stronger when Taylor's single mom, also an employee at Johnson's Corner, began dating and later married him.
Taylor went to college, launched a successful career in computers, and in the 1990s went to work at Hewlett-Packard. But in 1994, he got a call from his mom. It was time to leave the reserves so to speak, and join the big leagues as an owner and manager.
"I gave my resignation at Hewlett-Packard and came out in May 1994," he said. "I've been here ever since."
Perhaps his biggest legacy is monetizing the truck stop's uber cinnamon rolls, originally baked by Ida May Brunemeier.
Johnson's Corner hit the big time in 1998 when Travel and Leisure Magazine named the establishment as one of the top 10 breakfast places in the world. "It's big, hot, sugary, and cheap, at $1.60," wrote the magazine.
Today, those much-talked about cinnamon rolls are distributed across the Front Range. At $3.18, they are still big, sugary and cheap. The "hot" qualifier can depend on whether you're eating the roll at Johnson's Corner, or at your local gas station.
Ultimately, Taylor said the cinnamon roll empire he's leaving behind speaks to the unconventional business approach he adopted while running Johnson's Corner. It took the opposite approach to how many truck stops make their money.
"Truck stops historically have been fuel," said Taylor. "We always promoted the food and that's where we tried to enhance ourselves — an exact opposite approach to that model and it got us to where we are today."
At 61, Taylor will stay plenty busy running two other family businesses and serving out his four-year term on the Loveland City Council, which ends in 2015.