KNOXVILLE (WATE) - If you're not from Knoxville, you may not know Weigel's convenient stores is truly a local family-owned business that continues to focus on East Tennessee.
Weigel's, known for its gas stations, highly-touted coffee and milk, started as a family farm in Powell 80 years ago. The original barn and silos still stand at company headquarters in Powell.
Off in the distance is Broadacres Subdivision, a reminder of how things have changed over the years.
"I cried when I saw the first house go up on our farm," Billy Weigel said. "I was raised on this farm back in the '60s."
Now the chairman of the company, he's watched the business grow from a 600-acre farm to the convenience store chain it is today.
"My grandfather was a truck driver, my father a dairyman. He had Broadacres Dairy and then we opened our first drive-through milk store," Weigel said.
During the company's 80th year celebration, Weigel's put out posters highlighting some of its major milestones.
Billy Weigel walked us down the halls at headquarters, stopping at almost every old photograph. "That's my father, my grandfather and my father's brother," he pointed out to our crew.
In a special display case at the headquarters, many pieces of history are locked up, including several of Weigel's reusable milk jugs. The Jug-O-Milk program lasted for decades.
"It started out with glass. They were too heavy. In 1978, we went to plastic, white that you could not see through. Then in 1980, we went to see-through plastic jugs. Then I guess we gave up the returnable jug in 2002," Weigel said.
He believes they were one of the last dairies in the country to use returnable jugs and milk caps. Even today, "people say 'I still have my milk jug,'" Weigel said. "'Can I turn it in?' We say, 'You're a little late.'"
The company's best seller today is Skim D'Lite. Forty-five percent of sales come from this product alone.
Billy Weigel says the reason for the sales is simple. "Skim D'Lite is a cold-separated product. We take the cream out with a cold separating process. The mega-dairies take it out by heating it up to 170 degrees. It takes all the flavor out."
To date the family has about 50 stores, but only in East Tennessee.
Weigel says because the stores are concentrated in one area, the family can control the production and delivery of all the products. "We are local. We think local. We can control anything where quality is concerned."
In the late 1960s and early 1970s Weigel's added its first gas pumps. It was a far cry from the 16 fuel tanks you find at all the newer stores today. "My first gasoline pump had two pumps, no canopy," Weigel said.
So what's next for this family owned business? They already have their sights set on their next venture, ice cream.
"We will some day possibly make two or three flavors of ice cream. We should do that in the next five years," Weigel said.
While he knows the company will continue to change with the times, Weigel says one objective will never change. "I'd like to see it (the company) stay in the family. My hope is it will always be a family company."
Although there's still a barn at company headquarters, the Weigel family sold off their herd of cows in the 1970s. They still produce and bottle milk, but now they buy all their raw milk from a co-op, which gets supplies from local dairy farms.