Small Town Hospitality

In Watertown, South Dakota, Tip Top is both a tavern and a c-store.

February 28, 2023

By Sarah Hamaker

WATERTOWN, S.D.—When Dale Plunkett bought his parents’ Tip Top Tavern restaurant and bar in 2011, he knew he wanted to create a hybrid business. He researched what residents of the small town wanted and needed before making the decision to combine the restaurant and bar with a convenience store and fuel pumps.

“I realized the restaurant/bar business wasn’t going anywhere, so I kept the liquor license but expanded into the convenience retail industry,” he said. “I like the restaurant and bar business, but I like the c-store business a little bit more.”

Two Businesses

The original Tip Top Tavern was bulldozed to create the new business model. He designed the interior into separate-but-together areas for the restaurant/bar and convenience store. To divide the space between the restaurant and the store, Plunkett installed a wide cooler with doors on both sides. “While you can walk through to either area, the cooler is the middle of the floor plan,” he said. The kitchen is also strategically located within the building to easily serve both the restaurant and the warm to-go foods as well as the cold grab-and-go packaged foods.

When rebranding the store, the menu went through an upgrade, too.

“I noticed that our customer base on the c-store side was in a hurry, so we went with burgers and other on-the-go foods,” Plunkett said. During lunch, the restaurant offers a home-cooked daily special, which is popular with the agricultural customer base.

On the c-store side, he works with Coremark reps to keep up with what’s selling and what’s not. “That’s been very helpful to us,” he said. “Overall, the convenience store really boosted my sales incredibly, so it’s been a very positive move for us.” He also added fuel pumps out front, which draw customers inside the store and restaurant.

Tip Top carries a lot of local products, such as beef sticks, cheese and chislic, a South Dakota specialty of cubed beef. “Our No. 1 seller is our Apple Pie liquor, a home-brewed apple cider,” Plunkett said. “We sell hundreds of gallons of it every year.”

Community Partners

Being a good neighbor is part of the Tip Top mission. Each year, Plunkett does several fundraisers for charities, such as donating 30 cents from every gallon of ethanol sold or food for a nonprofit’s event. “We care about our community and try to help out whenever we can,” he said. “We’re established in the community, and we want to give back.”

Unfortunately, the low unemployment numbers in the area mean it’s difficult to find staff. “The past three or four years, it’s gotten even worse,” he said. “The staff I have are great, but I could easily hire another half dozen people. I’ve had to close more this year than during COVID because of low staffing.”

To combat the staffing issues, he’s raised the starting wage and makes concentrated efforts to show his appreciation to his managers and top-performing employees. “I know our staff is part of what makes Tip Top a great place to visit, so I do my best to keep them happy,” Plunkett said. “In turn, they keep our customers happy. Nobody walks into the store without being spoken to.”

Read more about Tip Top in the NACS Magazine Ideas 2 Go article, “Small Town Hospitality.

Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer, NACS Magazine contributor and romantic suspense author based in Fairfax, Virginia. Visit her online at