Couple brings business back to life, caters to community’s needs

Small Towns

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Michelle and Scott Herbolsheimer dreamed of reviving a once-bustling community hub when they bought the old derelict gas station at the edge of Oakland.

But costs kept adding up. The gas station had sat empty for 10 years, and the list of renovations was long. Fuel tanks needed replacing. The interior required a complete remodel. It needed a kitchen to offer customers vittles like sandwiches, pizza, biscuits, and gravy.

Michelle and Scott had to find more funds than they initially planned. A lending officer at their local bank, unable to make the loan they needed, suggested the couple contact the Center for Rural Affairs for help.

Center Senior Loan Specialist Lori Schrader guided them through the loan process, and the couple received funding and started renovating Oakland Express in April 2019.

“I explained how the Center processes our loans, and things went very smoothly,” said Lori. “Scott and Michelle are always willing to think outside of the box to help improve the business and what is best for the customers.”

Center staff also helped with one-on-one counseling for bookkeeping services, business accounting, and budgeting skills, even though owning a business was nothing new for Michelle and Scott.

“I've been in business for myself since 1993 when I started breeding horses,” said Michelle. “I have managed both retail and fast food in the past. Scott grew up in the grocery business. We purchased two grocery stores from his father shortly after we were married. Adding a third business to our repertoire was a natural progression of these life experiences.”

Buying a gas station was more than a business opportunity for Michelle and Scott. The purchase offered them the chance to revive a piece of Michelle’s history.

Michelle and her family raised and showed horses competitively near their home just south of the Burt County line in northeast Nebraska. Growing up, she spent time off and on at the veterinary clinic in Oakland, as well as an arena used for horse shows. During these years, she watched the construction and opening of a gas station nearby, witnessed it grow and thrive, and, over time, she saw the business decline and eventually close and sit empty.

Scott and Michelle decided to buy the station in hopes of breathing new life into it.

One of their top priorities was to have tank storage to carry #1 diesel fuel. To do that, they had to dig up the old concrete, put in additional storage tanks, new fuel lines, and new dispensers.

Once that was complete, they started working on the existing building. It required nearly a complete overhaul, including enlarging the kitchen and moving the registers to the front of the building where cashiers could monitor the fueling stations.

Now, Oakland Express offers typical convenience store items including snacks, fountain drinks, bottled soft drinks, juices, water, and alcohol, as well as fuel. They also sell grocery items including produce, dairy, and deli.

And with a hot table and warmers purchased with loan money from the Center, they broadened their services to provide hot, homemade meals for their customers.

“There was the need to offer meals for the men and women who work in town,” said Michelle. “At Oakland Express they can grab a three-course meal quickly, have the option of taking lunch back to their office with them, or sit down in our dining room and take a break here.”

The homemade food at Oakland Express has been so popular that they expanded into catering, which has been a big hit in the community and has offered an additional revenue stream for Scott and Michelle.

“Going into catering was a natural progression as the reputation for our food service was already there,” Michelle said. “It started with requests for takeout for larger groups and soon became a request for cooking for special occasions or lunch meetings.”

Running a successful business takes a great deal of time and requires good help. Michelle said her biggest challenge has been finding reliable employees who are passionate about being part of a team and providing their best effort every day. At this point, she and Scott employ 12 part-time workers, including Michelle’s son and mother.

“I have learned from experience that hiring bodies to fill positions in the hope that they work out is not the answer,” Michelle said. “A revolving door drags down the morale of the existing employees, and it’s costly to train a new employee only to have them leave after they get that first paycheck.”

Michelle uses every resource available to advertise and market the business. Social media has become the easiest for her to navigate, as she has studied digital media for several years. She also runs ads in the local newspapers and sponsors school and community events.

“I regularly work with the local radio stations sponsoring ads during major school events,” Michelle said. “I donate to support school clubs and organizations, local youth groups, church groups, and other various community improvements and activities in the area. I believe the best way to market to our customers is by giving back to the community as much as I can.”

As a business owner, Michelle enjoys feeling like she’s a part of something bigger.

“I love being people’s first stop in the morning for coffee, their lunch connection, their last stop before reaching home,” she said. “I love having a sense of family here at work; a group of people who have been brought together by a desire to make the day a little brighter for everyone they come in contact with.”

Michelle intends to continue to build up the volume of the business and expand the customer base. She and Scott also hope their son will become more involved in running the business so at some point they can turn operations over to him. She thanks the Center for being part of the reason Oakland Express has come this far.

“The financial aid received from the Center assisted in providing working capital needed to get the initial inventory and working equipment we had to have to get the business up and ready to open the doors,” said Michelle. “It was a simple process. The Center was very easy to work with. I love that the Center is designed to support local rural communities and businesses.”

She’s also grateful to have the opportunity to carry on the legacy of a business, so it can become part of someone else’s history.

“We are locally owned and operated; I grew up in the area, went to school in the area, came back, married, and chose to live here,” said Michelle. “I love being here. I love that I see people I grew up with every day, people who know my family, families who are as deeply rooted in the community as mine is. My employees and I enjoy being part of this community, and we fulfill a purpose here in service to our friends, our neighbors, and our family. I believe that shows in our commitment to the quality and the pride we put into our work.”

Are you in need of financing to purchase or renovate an existing business? Contact your regional loan specialist. Find yours at

At a glance

Oakland Express
Michelle and Scott Herbolsheimer
909 Nebraska Highway 32
Oakland, Nebraska
Hours: Monday through Friday, 5 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.