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Al's Oasis works on upgrades under new ownership

OACOMA — Behind upgrades and improvements to one of the region's most iconic grocery stores and restaurants, Al's Oasis and its new management are fitting in well with Oacoma residents in its first year.

Sioux Falls-based Regency Hotel Management recently held a pair of meetings at Al's Oasis to inform the public about some of its planned upgrades. Dan Wilde, the operations manager for Al's Oasis, said Regency Hotel Management wanted to meet with the public to notify citizens of some changes that would take place over the next few months.

"We're not doing anything too major," Wilde said. "We're neighbors and we want to be good neighbors, but there are just a few business things that we need to do to stay competitive."

One of those changes includes taking out a wall and opening up the restaurant to the bar area, something that Wilde said should help with the atmosphere and ambiance. The restaurant is also upgrading its buffet line, which Wilde says should meet the needs of its customers.

"The buffet station system will give visitors the option of having a hot meal and getting back on the road, if they please," Wilde said. "Or they can take a few trips through the line if they want."

The landmark resting stop opened as a grocery store in 1919 by the Mueller family, who have since become an investor in the partnership with Regency Hotel Management when the sale was announced last April. Oacoma Town Board President Mike Schreiber said the relationship between the new ownership and the community of just more than 400 has been a solid one.

"It's hard to see the Mueller family go, but at the same time we have an ownership group that understands the history and the nostalgia of Al's Oasis, and that's great for our community," he said.

Schreiber said the meetings were also good to put to bed some of the rumors that were surrounding the long-term future of the complex, something he attributed simply to life in a small town.

"People are always talking, and so it's good to set the record straight and have everyone on the same page as far as what's going on," he said.

Al's Oasis has also created a rewards card program with the Dakota Shell gas station, allowing grocery shoppers to put their purchases toward gasoline purchases. The store has sidelined their Buffalo Bucks program for now, but Wilde said that could return in some form. They've also added Chester's Chicken to their deli area and adjusted a few items on their restaurant menu.

"It's refreshing to have someone that understands our community and knows what we're working with," Schreiber said. "I'm pleased with what we've seen for a while from the new ownership and it appears to be a good fit."

Overall, Wilde said he expects customers to notice little difference.

"We're still going to be who we've always been," Wilde said. "We've always prioritized hospitality and that's what we're still going to do. We'll still have the buffalo out front."