Pilot Travel Center completes store-wide renovations; Company makes $5K donation to local schools

Published 4:24 pm Thursday, January 13, 2022

LAPLACE — The Pilot Travel Center was one of the first businesses on Main Street to reopen in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, giving the community access to essential fuel, food and supplies.

Pilot’s commitment to fueling life’s journeys has never wavered, even while rebounding from extensive storm damages. Pilot Travel Center celebrated its reopening in grand fashion on January 11, unveiling its completely remodeled facility with a ribbon cutting ceremony and a $5,000 donation to St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools.

Hurricane Ida tormented St. John the Baptist Parish with category four winds and devastating storm surge the evening of August 29. More than two feet of floodwaters inundated the Pilot Travel Center at 4301 South Main Street in LaPlace, leaving a thick coat of sludge and debris smeared across the store’s interior. The storm’s wrath also caused seven 18-wheelers to catch fire in the back parking lot.

“I ran this store for over 14 years prior to this happening,” said Doug Hallmark, regional manager for Pilot Company. “This was the worst I’d ever seen the store in my life.”

General Manager Eric Hitchens recounted the total destruction seen across LaPlace in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Ida. Prolonged flooding along the Highway 51 corridor prevented Hitchens and his team from returning to the travel center for more than a week.

Once they were able to access the store, it took a team effort to clean up and complete initial repairs needed to reopen to the public. Pilot reopened its doors less than two months after the hurricane, even as most businesses along the Main Street/Highway 51 corridor remained shuttered.

“Our priority was to get things back up and running operationally,” Hitchens said. “We did whatever it took to help the community return to some type of normalcy.”

Pilot made sure its team members were paid and taken care of after the storm, according to employee Stacy Locascio, who was without power for nearly three weeks. The company even provided temporary housing to team members whose homes were damaged by Ida.

Moving beyond the initial opening, Pilot kicked off a series of store-wide renovations to provide enhanced amenities for professional truck drivers, St. John Parish residents and motorists traveling through the area.

Hitchens and the Pilot team assisted in the remodeling by clearing debris, replacing shelving and setting up generators.

“We’ve made some major strides when it comes to the overall appearance and maintenance side of the store,” Eric said. “The whole entire front-end has four self-checkouts now, which we didn’t have before. That’s a big win.”

Pilot Travel Center now features 12 gasoline fueling positions and 10 diesel lanes with high-speed pumps for faster refueling.

The interior offers grab-and-go food options such as roller grills, nachos, hot and cold packaged sandwiches and snacks, in addition to a full-service Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts Express and Pilot’s Best Gourmet Coffees.

Other renovations include eight showers, 113 truck parking spots, a driver’s lounge, public laundry, an updated interior, expanded beverage selection, upgraded technology for faster check-outs, and a wider selection of everyday products for convenient shopping needs.

“It’s been a long road to recovery for the community of LaPlace over these past few months since Hurricane Ida, but this community and our team members continue to demonstrate their resiliency,” said Jason Nordin, chief operator of Pilot Company. “Knowing the importance of bringing back essential services to the area, we worked to restore fueling and store operations as swiftly as possible until we could fully remodel the store. It’s an honor to celebrate this grand re-opening with the community of LaPlace and to make a contribution to the local school district.”

Giving back has been important to the Pilot Company since it was founded in 1958. This week’s $5,000 donation was directed to St. John the Baptist Parish Public Schools to help the district recover from the impacts of Hurricane Ida.

As of this week, scholars from East St. John High School and Emily C. Watkins remain displaced from their school sites.

Superintendent Dr. Lynett Hookfin said the donation will be used to fund instructional software, academic incentives, Airpods, Apple watches and supplemental materials for scholars, in addition to academic field trips in EOC subjects.

“We are extremely grateful to them for thinking of us in this time of need, and also for them to allow us to utilize the funding in the way that we want to,” Dr. Hookfin said. “We are very appreciative. The love that people have shown us after the storm has been tremendous. Words cannot express how thankful we are.”