Lonnie Allsup remembered for philanthropy, burritos
Last updated 1/30/2018 at 12:32am
CLOVIS — Lonnie Allsup first became interested in retail grocery sales when he was 10 years old in his hometown of Morton, Texas.
"He used to stand on a box to stock and bag. Allsup liked the fast part of the grocery store business and taking care of the customer," reads the Eastern New Mexico High Plains History book published in 1979.
The passion continued for the rest of his life, his name linked to hundreds of Allsup's convenience stores across Texas and New Mexico.
Allsup died Sunday at his Clovis home. He was 84. A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday at Faith Christian Family Church in Clovis.
Allsup, with his wife Barbara, started in the convenience store business in 1956, opening Lonnie's Drive-In Grocery. A customer soon suggested he add gas pumps outside the small grocery. Allsup said he didn't think it would work, but he gave it a try and soon built a legacy combining fast food and gas that continues today.
He sold a dozen of Lonnie's stores in 1963 — pocketing $250,000, according to "High Plains History" — and started a new food-and-gas chain in Clovis in 1964.
"There's one near you," became the company slogan, and Allsup's officials report there are 318 stores in about 160 communities with about 3,000 employees today.
"I never met Lonnie Allsup, but all of us small-town folks owe him a debt of gratitude," said Wes Reeves, who travels the region as a spokesman for Xcel Energy.
"As corporate America was shifting everything to the big cities, Lonnie was opening up 24/7 stores in places like my hometown of Wellington, Texas. We even got two stores.
"If they ran out of burritos in town, there was another opportunity on the highway."
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In addition to their business success, Lonnie and Barbara Allsup have been among the area's most faithful philanthropists, donating more than $465,000 to United Way in the past 15 years, said Executive Director Erinn Burch.
The couple also raised close to $400,000 for local charities during a six-year run of the El Cid Cutting Horse Competition in the late 1990s.
Lt. Kelly Berggren, with Clovis' Salvation Army, said Lonnie Allsup was a speaker at the annual Kettle Kickoff Banquet in 2016.
"I pictured in my mind that he would be a real slick, executive-type guy, but the man we met was a grandfather. He was just the kindest, nicest man, and you would have never known that he owned 300 stores or was a man in his position with his attitude. He was very humble and gracious, and was just a pleasure to be around," he said.
Berggren recalled a time when his organization's food pantry was running low; he wrote Allsup and received a prompt reply.
"... He sent me a check for $1,000 and said, 'I sure hope this helps fill your pantry.' He was just that kind of guy. If you needed something, he would be there to help," Berggren said.
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For those who never met Allsup, his name-brand beef-and-bean burritos have left a lasting impression anyway.
Social media posts on Monday included healthy memories of those deep-fried treats.
"Friends and family have had many conversations about missing Allsup burritos when we moved out of Allsup territory," wrote Joy Kennedy, who grew up in Texas and lived in Roswell before moving to Denver. "Anytime someone visited from Texas and New Mexico, they were begged to bring burritos. Thank you for many delicious but inexpensive meals."
The burritos were an accident, at least according to legend.
Mike Connolly, who worked for Allsup, told the Clovis News Journal in 2014 that an employee was making a traditional burrito and accidentally dropped it into some grease. "Another burrito was made for the customer," Connolly said, but the fried version soon became more popular.
Allsup's menus have grown considerably through the years, but the burrito and 32-ounce "Tallsup" soft drink have been staples of teenage diets for more than 40 years.
"The stores are still the center of the activity in many towns," Reeves said.
"What kid growing up in a small town around here hasn't said, 'Meet us at Allsup's' or 'Wanna get a Coke at Allsup's?'
"I think that's a pretty good legacy."
— Staff writers David Grieder, Eamon Scarbrough and Managing Editor Kevin Wilson contributed to this report.