The Lake Area’s Two Full-Service Stations Offer Old-Fashioned Service With A Personal Touch
An elderly woman pulls up to the pump at Bob’s Exxon, located on Napoleon St. in Sulphur. Owner David Nezat walks up to the car as the woman opens the door and gets out. They share a warm hug and begin an animated conversation, like longtime friends, which they probably are, being that Nezat’s owned Bob’s for about two decades now, and helped manage the place for the former owner (and the station’s namesake) before that.
On the opposite side of the pump isle, a disabled driver is having his van filled up by David’s son (and the station’s co-owner) Logan Nezat, who’s also washing the windshield and checking the tires. Inside, a couple of elderly gentlemen, longtime Bob’s customers, enjoy a cup of coffee and some conversation in the station’s office and waiting area. The coffee, they say, is always on here.
At Lake Street Conoco, at 2700 Lake St. in Lake Charles, owner Bill Sutphin surveys the work going on in the three-bay garage, while employee Khourey Granger fills a customer’s car up, talking with the customer and checking out the tires.
Yes, old-fashioned, at-your-service, don’t-have-to-leave-your-car, check-the-oil-and-water, full-service stations still exist — two of them here in the Lake Area. And, while such stations have largely gone by the wayside in an era of quick-stop convenience stores, the owners (and customers) of both of these stations say they’re definitely still needed.
Bob’s Exxon has been in business in Sulphur since 1952, when it was opened on Ruth St. by brothers Bobby and C.W. Frankland.
By the late ‘90s, Bob Frankland was advancing in age, and he asked David Nezat, his son-in-law, to help with the business. Nezat left a position as manager at a local Eckerd’s Drug Store to work at the station. When Bob grew ill, Nezat took over full ownership, eventually being joined by his son, Logan.
“We wanted to keep the business in the family,” says David, “and the customers wanted the place to stay open.”
The station has a full-service isle with two pumps, and four bays for oil changes, tire service and minor automotive repairs, says Nezat, such as belt and hose replacements, brake service and starter repairs. They also do state inspections. Nezat says they service between 50-100 cars per day.
The Nezats also offer a pick-up and drop-off service for minor repairs, and will fix flats, provide emergency gas, and do other small repairs on cars stranded on the side of the road.
They’ll even wash your car by hand, and vacuum it.
“They’ll take care of you,” says long-time customer Judy Gregory. “They take care of everything.”
Lake Street Conoco
Once known as Lake Street Citgo, the full-service Lake Street Conoco has been owned and operated by Sutphin for 24 years.
“I’ve been a mechanic all my life, and I’ve always enjoyed the service station business,” says Sutphin, who, before purchasing the Lake Street station, managed the Exxon station near K-Mart, and also worked for Ken Conner Service Tire and Auto.
“After a while, I just thought it was time I didn’t always have someone around to change my mind for me, so I went into business for myself,” he quips.
Lake Street Conoco has three bays for full-service mechanical work. “We do oil changes, tire service, brakes and water pumps,” Sutphin says.
Aside from the two-pump full-service isle, the station also offers two self-service isles. They also offer pick-up service, as well as a wash-and-wax and vacuum service.
“The customer service (at Lake Street Conoco) is excellent,” says Larry Turner, who’s been a loyal customer for 10-12 years. “They change the oil, and do minor repairs. They order parts when I need them. It’s nice to know you can rely on that kind of service.”
Like Bob’s Exxon, Lake Street Citgo also serves between 50-100 customers per day.
Filling A Need … Or Several
There’s a reason full-service stations are experiencing that kind of customer count — a few reasons, actually.
Senior citizens, of course, enjoy visiting a service station with the type of service and atmosphere they knew when they were younger drivers.
“It’s like going back 30 or 40 years,” says Chuck Hansen, who’s been a loyal customer of Bob’s since 1976. “You don’t find service like that anymore.”
“I love the old-fashioned service,” says Gregory. “Going to Bob’s is like going to (a service station) a long time ago.”
More than a visit to the past, however, for seniors, many of whom may have difficulty with mobility or have other health problems, full-service stations may be a necessity.
“A lot of our customers are older, with physical problems,” says Sutphin. They don’t want to have to get out of their cars or walk into a store.”
“We get a lot of older customers who need this kind of service, and need someone to listen to their concerns and check things out,” says Nezat. “That’s why I’ve stayed in this business as long as I have. It’s needed.”
For the disabled, for whom getting in and out of a vehicle might not be as easy, full-service stations offer a chance to gas up and get the car checked out, without having to operate lifts, get mobility devices out, and then having to do it all again minutes later.
For young and old alike, the personal relationships formed with owners, attendants and mechanics are a huge advantage to full-service stations. Many of the stations’ customers go by weekly, at least, and over the course of time, friendships are developed. Nezat, for instance, practically knows the life history of each of his regular customers.
“(Nezat) is a fine person,” says longtime Bob’s customer Marla Frenzel. “He always has a smile for everyone. It’s just a friendly place to go.”
That family atmosphere exists because, to the owners of both stations, customers are family, says Nezat.
“They come by and drink coffee. We know them and their families. It’s a mom-and-pop business where we know your name.”
“You get to know your customers personally,” says Sutphin. “We even help them with things they need done around the house, if they ask. I call it community service. You meet some really great people in this business, and you appreciate them.”
Turner says the personal touch is a large part of why he’s such a loyal Lake Street Conoco customer.
“They know my name; they know what kind of gas I use; they know what the pressure in my tires is supposed to be. We know each other, and we keep up with each other’s lives.”
Full-service stations also offer an opportunity to have a vehicle checked out thoroughly before a long road trip. Before setting out, it’s nice to be able to know that the oil and water levels are okay, the tires are adequately inflated, and all belts and hoses are in good shape.
“I call it an insurance policy,” says Nezat.
“You can get everything checked out,” Sutphin says. “It gives you peace of mind.”
Sutphin and Nezat both say that they feel they offer their customers a vital service.
“There’s a real need for this kind of business,” Sutphin says.