When Greek life student Brennan Matt came to Drake University in 2019, Forest Avenue was in no shortage of late-night dining options. Students living between campus and 34th Street were steps away from Fong’s Pizza and McDonald’s, both of which would keep their doors open past midnight for hungry customers. Three years and a pandemic later, Fong’s has closed permanently while McDonald’s shuts down its indoor lobby before 9 p.m. nightly.
“Whether it’s a Tuesday night or a Saturday night, students will stay up late,” Matt said. “Quick food options are a necessity for undergraduates.”
Casey’s agrees with Matt’s assessment. The convenience store chain has opened a non-fuel store located at the corner of Forest Avenue and 32nd Street, which will be open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week. Casey’s, an Ankeny-based corporation, cited the dense student population as a reason for the decision to omit fuel sales from the store’s services.
“…On the fuel piece, we think this is the right store with the right stuff for this community, and it’ll be a great fit, and I think also, obviously if you look at the space here, this wouldn’t be a parcel where you’d be able to put fuel in, too,” said Katie Petru, director of communications at Casey’s.
The new Casey’s will offer grand opening deals: single-topping pizza slices and medium fountain drinks for $1 apiece, 50-cent donuts and free coffee, the company said in a statement. Customers can also purchase Casey’s pizza, bakery items, and breakfast Toastwich and loaded burritos.
“I mean, the most comparable is a pizza restaurant. And that’s really how we think of ourselves, is Casey’s is like a pizza restaurant in this case,” Petru said. “And so, we think we’ll definitely have a good opportunity to meet the needs of, I’m sure, a lot of hungry students, a lot of just [the] campus community. And even kind of the beaver truck commute that happens from just north here into downtown.”
Ryan Arnold, Drake’s director of community engagement, believes the store brings value to campus and the surrounding neighborhood.
“Our goals are really about adding to the vitality, the vibrancy and sustainability of our neighborhood,” Arnold said.
Dogtown has seen several changes over the past few years, with the addition of a hotel, apartments, a new campus building in the Harkin Institute, renovations to the historic Varsity Cinema, a renovated Go Fresh Market by Kum & Go and plans for continued development of living, commercial and retail space.
Redevelopment along Forest Avenue has been less noticeable. An apartment complex was installed across from the old KFC/Taco Bell store which was replaced by a Mexican restaurant, Habanero’s, in 2021. One of Drake’s largest investments in recent years, the Gregory and Suzie Glazer Burt Boys and Girls Club opened its doors in 2019. Across the street from the Boys and Girls Club is the future site of a soccer stadium to be shared by Drake University and Des Moines Public Schools. The project was approved in late 2019.
Casey’s said in the statement that the chain recently made a $10,000 donation to Roosevelt High School and gave a $50,000 grant to East High School. The Roosevelt donation will help the school complete a new track and field facility, while the East High donation will improve its activities campus, presidents of foundations for the schools said in the same statement.
Casey’s is the fourth-largest convenience store retailer in the United States. Their move to open non-fuel stores comes after a 2020 Casey’s Investor Day presentation found that 70% of customer’s trips are not fuel-related. The company also rebranded in 2020, dropping “General Stores” from their logo.
For Brennan Matt, the new location brings both promise and a bittersweet nostalgia.
“It feels good heading into my senior year knowing that a late night snack is just a walk around the corner,” Matt said. “I miss walking from my dorm room in Carpenter to grab a bite at McDonald’s after midnight. I know others feel the same.”