Rubenstein, Wallis turn old road trip memories into new roadside experience


Michael Rubenstein and Chad Wallis

Jordan Palmer, Chief Digital Content Officer

Growing up in the 1970s, if my family was going on vacation, it meant we were taking a road trip. Funny to think about it now, but we didn’t call it a road trip back then, it was just a trip. And road trips have certainly not gone away, in fact in the age of RVs, they are probably more popular than ever. But wouldn’t you agree – there is something special, something nostalgic about the trips taken back in those days? Thinking about those times makes me just a bit happier.

Memories in the car

Scotty Palmer, Jordan Palmer, Stephanie Altman, Cindi Shore, ready to leave Kansas City for St. Louis. Year unknown.

Most of our road trips took place along the stretch of Interstate 70 between St. Louis and Kansas City. My family lived here, but my mom’s family lived in K.C.

This was the age of the 8-track, and later the cassette tape. There were no dual monitor DVD players hanging from my mom’s headrest to entertain us. Instead, we had the greatest hits from the K-Tel collection, Andy Gibbs’ “Shadow Dancing” and of course, the CB Radio.

Yes, my mother was “The Belly Dancer” on the CB, and she drove that yellow Volvo station wagon, topped off by a 15-foot mounted CB antenna liked she was a full-on trucker.

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My brother Scotty and I entertained ourselves by counting Mercedes Benz’ and scouring the interstate for Smoky Bears, while my mother broke the speed limit, driving like a madwoman, at 60, sometimes 65 miles per hour.  It was a crazy time on I-70.

Aside from passing the old Cindy Motel west of Chesterfield, which we joyfully celebrated because my sister Cindi loved seeing her name on a sign, spelled incorrectly, we had just a few landmarks along the way. One was of course Stuckey’s.

Gettin’ gas

After the Volkswagon was retired, my mother drove a Mercedes 240D. The “D” stands for diesel, and back then, diesel fuel wasn’t easy to find. Only a few stations along the route carried it, so we knew exactly when and where to stop. Stuckey’s had diesel.

For many, Stuckey’s was a road trip staple, an oasis of souvenirs and sweets, plus clean restrooms. You could feast on pecan logs, sweet water taffy, and so much more. The stop to get fuel became a part of the trip and a part of the experience. And from what I’m seeing going on right now in Fenton, I’m not alone in understanding the importance of that experience.


With a mission to reimagine how people experience travel centers, two Jewish first cousins are bringing memories of their own family road trips to life, with the opening Friday (March 11) of Wally’s.

“Wally’s is home of the Great American Road Trip and we have created a unique and interactive guest experience for the traveler. We are thrilled to be bringing our great service, tasty food, and clean restrooms to Fenton,” says Wally’s President and CEO Michael Rubenstein.

Family roots

Rubenstein and his cousin Chad Wallis, have deep roots in our area and entrepreneurship in their blood. In 1929, their great-grandfather William and his brother Simon founded Paramount Cap Manufacturing Co. in St. Louis but moved the company to Bourbon, Mo. after surviving the Depression.

With the family business rooted in Bourbon, both Rubenstein and Wallis grew up in nearby Sullivan and Cuba, respectively. Rubenstein and Wallis recall countless trips to St. Louis for Hebrew school. The Rubensteins were members at the erstwhile Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel in Richmond Heights, while the Wallis’ attended Congregation Temple Israel in Creve Coeur.

“We’d drive in each weekend, go to Sunday school, and then meet as a family at the Galleria food court for lunch,” said Wallis.

The road trips to St. Louis from Sullivan and Cuba were just the start. As the family grew, both Rubenstein and Wallis remember piling in the family cars to trek south to Florida, where the families would gather for vacations on Long Boat Key. The experiences of these trips never left them, and now they are turning all our collective road trip memories into a new experience.

Wally’s in Fenton

“Driving in from Sullivan, I always knew we were close to St. Louis when we saw the Chrysler Plant,” Rubenstein recalled, “so when we learned about the redevelopment efforts in Fenton, it felt like a natural fit and exciting opportunity to be a part of the revitalization of that property.”

That revitalization is now a reality in the form of a new 36,000 square foot retail space, which also houses meticulously clean and large bathrooms with more than 40 stalls, a Wally’s Café featuring a hand-carved BBQ station, freshly made sandwiches and a jerky by the pound station. There is also Wally’s freshly popped popcorn, hand-scooped ice cream and freshly baked goods, along with wide selection of local and national craft beers, wines and spirits.

“No detail was left out in the design and amenities at Wally’s. The team truly understands what is important to today’s commuter and traveling families,” said Rubenstein.

Retro and kitsch

Wally’s features the look and feel of an old-school road trip but is also a super modern travel center with all the expected amenities. Designed in-house, the retailer boasts a modern, retro brand that incorporates a sense of Route 66 pride, which visitors feel from the moment they step through the door.

“Our retail section is anchored by a vintage Winnebago trailer where customers can shop and lounge,” said Wallis.

Soda fountains with more than 60 flavors and 12 slushie options, in addition to a gourmet coffee bar featuring Intelligentsia coffee, nitro cold brew, alternative milks such as oat milk, and Circle kombucha on tap.

“Our retail selection really sets Wally’s apart. Rather than go through a couple major distributors to supply our products, we carefully curated a robust shopping experience from a wide range of vendors,” Rubenstein explained. “Whether our customers need a last-minute gift or just want to browse for themselves, we made it a point to curate a selection for everyone. We have a huge range of products — teething rings, BAGGU bags, jade face rollers, Solo Stoves, candles, accent pillows, hats, sleeping bags and more.”

And don’t forget you stopped for gas 

You probably have never seen a roadside stop with 50 fueling pumps, and you won’t see that at Wally’s because they have 72 fueling locations spanning the length of over two football fields, five high-speed charging stations and plenty of parking.

Guests will “find unexpected delight at every turn, there is something for everyone in the family” says Chief Experience Officer, Andy Strom.

Photos Of Wally’s