MAYFIELD - Lou Stutzke has come a long way since the days when he was driving a dump truck at age 20.
The Tourism Partner Award presented to Lou and his wife, Nancy, of Fuel-n-Food in Mayfield was featured as one of the Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry's 2009 awards at its annual dinner Friday. And it wasn't only for bringing thousands of ice-fishing enthusiasts to the area in the upcoming Walleye Challenge on Jan. 30.
Tourism Director Terry Swierzowski said the Stutzkes are a huge motivating force for seeing that events they help organize benefit the entire community.
The Leader-Herald/Joel DiTata
Lou Stutzke, owner of Fuel-n-Food in Mayfield, helps a customer with live bait in his bait shop in Mayfield on Tuesday.
"We're excited to be able to award Lou and Nancy because of the impact they have on tourism in the area," Swierzowski said.
She said area businesses benefit from each of the events Fuel-n-Food sponsors. In the case of the Walleye Challenge, fishing enthusiasts will be hitting local restaurants, motels, bait shops and gas stations.
Swierzowski said another reason she felt Lou Stutzke was deserving of the chamber's award was because of his rapport with his patrons.
"He really understands his customers," she said. "He knows everybody who comes there. He greets everybody who comes in there. He knows them all personally."
Stutzke said he saw the opportunity the gas station on Route 30 presented when he was only 20 while driving a dump truck.
At 21, he bought the business and has continued to grow the business by adding services and products, as well as helping sponsor and promote events to bring new people to the area. Now 34, not only does he have groceries and gas for sale, he has propane, diesel, bait and a full deli to serve his customers. Pizza, breakfast specials, fishing supplies, subs, sandwiches, baked goods and lottery are all available.
When his contract for fuel supplies with Citgo expired in August 2009, Stutzke said he switched to Sunoco products so that he could tie into the Price Chopper gas discount promotion. It was just one more way he could both expand his business and service his customers.
"That wasn't planned, the timing just worked out," he said. "I'm having fun doing this and I'm making some money at the same time."
Swierzowski said Fuel-n-Food also is a great small-business employer.
"They employ 22 full-time people in the summer," Swierzowski said. "In winter, they have 11 full-time employees."
With an expected minimum of 3,000 people coming into the area next weekend, assuming each contestant will bring at least one family member or friend, Swierzowski said the event Stutzke organized "has a truly regional impact." She said she has had reports from as far away as Ballston Spa where fishing enthusiasts were lined up at 3 a.m. wanting to buy bait for the contest last year.
Stutzke said the Walleye Challenge grew out of a weekend-long fishing contest he has been sponsoring for a decade. Conducted in March, he saw it as a way to bring customers to the area at a time when winter sports are normally waning.
"It's right at the end of the season," Stutzke said. "It helps sell out our inventory. We had 700 for that weekend event last year and gave out prizes right in our driveway."
Stutkze said since the Fuel-n-Food gas pumps are open around the clock, his location is a natural venue to keep people informed and supplied for local hunting and fishing events. Nearby businesses also appreciate Stutzke's promotions and their effect on other local businesses.
David Allen of Dave's Bait Shop on Bunker Hill Road in Mayfield said he has already had reservations to rent out a dozen ice shanties he has in stock.
Other events Fuel-n-Food have on their Web site at www.fuelnfood.com include spring, summer and fall fishing contests, a turkey hunting contest in May and a deer-hunting contest. And while he is a sponsor and advertises the events on his Web site and at his place of business, Stutzke says he can't take all the credit.