Alex Keenan︱Fleet Maintenance Magazine
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Drivers find sweet stop, family legacy at Johnson’s Corner

July 4, 2024
Johnson’s Corner has been providing travelers with a place to rest their feet for 72 years, maintaining its homey roots even through family transitions and a larger acquisition.

JOHNSTOWN, Colorado The large, white sign roughly the size of a small billboard labeled with blocky red letters that read ‘Johnson’s Corner’ isn’t just how drivers know where to turn off for some fuel, a shower, and a snack. It’s the mark of a local landmark along the Front Range, and for me, it’s how I know I’m almost home when driving back from Denver late at night.

Located just off of Interstate 25, Johnson’s Corner is a cozy and beloved truck stop fitted with fuel stations for passenger and tractor-trailers vehicles, a restaurant, bakery, convenience store, showers, a driver’s lounge, and a laundry room. The diner, which features windows that curve around the west and north sides of the building, grants a view of the highway and the landmark sign, with I-25 and the Rocky Mountains beyond. But it’s what’s served in the diner that helped make this truck stop famous.

Johnson’s Corner cinnamon rolls caught mainstream attention in 1998 when Travel & Leisure magazine included the confection on its list of 10 best breakfasts in the world. Twenty-six years later, their reputation holds up, even when I microwaved mine at home instead of eating it fresh at the diner (deadlines don’t wait for a sit-down meal). But even reheated, the hefty cinnamon roll was soft and spongy, and the icing melted in a perfect glaze down the sides, its sweetness balanced by the gooey cinnamon center.

I think it adds to the experience knowing that the original cinnamon roll recipe has been passed down from the baker who worked with Joe Johnson when he established Johnson’s Corner to Johnson’s stepson, and then on to the truck stop’s newest owners, TravelCenters of America. It helps give the place the timeless feeling that welcomes locals and newcomers alike, which it has maintained since 1952.

Establishing a local landmark

Joe Johnson opened Johnson’s Corner in 1952, before I-25 had ever been laid. The fifth Johnson’s Corner location in Colorado, Johnson and his wife, Patty, managed the location. Chauncey Taylor, Joe’s stepson, remembers starting work in the restaurant as a busboy when he was 12.

Here, the truck stop offered drivers a hot meal once the highway came in, as well as service from a small shop right across the street from the restaurant. And the location served everyone, from travelers to locals. Mike Oster, the current Johnson’s Corner site manager, even claimed that the restaurant played host to the FBI and first responders in 1955 when United Air Lines Flight 629 exploded over Weld County.

Taylor’s mother, Virginia Johnson, helped run Johnson’s Corner after Joe married her, and passed on the place to the now-grown Taylor in 1994. Taylor served as the general manager and owner, while his wife, Christy, worked as the chief financial officer. Together, the couple carried the business into the 21st century, with eventual help from their son, Layne.

Read more: Top 100 U.S. truck stops, as rated by Trucker Path users

But after 20 years of serving drivers and their community, the Taylors were ready to sell the truck stop. TravelCenters of America purchased the location in 2014, with Layne assisting with the transition for about a year and a half. The repair shop didn’t renew their contract when Johnson’s Corner changed hands for the final time. And with the old building in poor repair once the technicians vacated the shop, TravelCenters of America took it down altogether, leaving little but a concrete pad and the barest remains of walls painted a bright red. But TA still offers emergency roadside service for the area.

Staying true to its roots

Even under new ownership, the truck stop and restaurant has kept its down-home roots, just as Taylor wanted.

“As a businessman, you just don’t change Johnson’s Corner,” said Chauncey Taylor to the Denver Post when the place was sold in 2014. And he’s right. New management or not, Johnson’s Corner has retained its original, family-owned charm, which is part of what drew the current site manager to the truck stop. Oster, who has worked for TA for 13 years now and began his career as a dishwasher before rising to site manager, first heard of Johnson’s Corner when TA started sending out the famous cinnamon rolls to other locations.

“When the job came available, I jumped at it because I've had a lot of colleagues that have worked here in the past,” Oster recalled. “And then I fell in love with the people and the culture.”

Now a local himself, Oster loves knowing his workplace isn’t just a truck stop, but a community destination.

“Any person I talk to in the area, even a random person at the gas station, they have a Johnson's Corner story from when they were growing up,” he explained. “When they got back from the bars, they would come here, or their grandfather would take them here after fishing. It’s neat to meet these older people who remember when the place opened.”

Even for those who weren’t around when Joe Johnson first set up shop in 1952, the truck stop is a Johnstown hallmark for those like Eric Quintana, Johnson’s Corner general manager. Quintana has been familiar with the location since he was eight years old, recalling the building’s prior layout when the pumps stood where the convenience store is now and the showers were downstairs. Both Quintana and his mother have worked in the truck stop.

“[Johnson’s Corner] has always been something recognizable and something that's always been here,” Quintana said. “It's easy to work here.”

And with a dedicated community behind it, Johnson’s Corner is sure to keep serving drivers for many years to come.

About the Author

Alex Keenan

Alex Keenan is an Associate Editor for Fleet Maintenance magazine. She has written on a variety of topics for the past several years and recently joined the transportation industry, reviewing content covering technician challenges and breaking industry news. She holds a bachelor's degree in English from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. 

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