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The area’s popularity and population had grown steadily in the previous few years. Automobile sales had increased sharply as technological advancements made cars and trucks readily available and affordable to the masses. With this growth came a sharp increase in the demand for gasoline and an energetic and insightful entrepreneur seized the opportunity. The year is 1924, the man’s name… Roland J. Robert, Sr. and this year marks the 88th anniversary of one of Ascension Parish’s most dynamic companies.


Model-T flatbed truck

The legacy of Roland J. Robert, Sr. goes well beyond the gasoline distributorship which still thrives in Burnside today. Employing 280 people and providing a living for many of his children’s families, Robert Distributing is now a multi-faceted corporation managing 15 C-store and truck stop locations as well as several rental properties. The business is run on a daily basis by sons Gayle and Steve Robert. Their brothers, Al, Harry, and Roland, Jr., serve as members of the board.


Their brother Don and their sister Val Ann were brought out in order to pursue other interests and both still reside in Ascension Parish, a place their gather was so instrumental in helping to build.


On December 14, 1924 Mr. Robert opened his petroleum products wholesale company in conjunction with the Mexican Petroleum Corporation. The gasoline was processed from crude oil at MPC’s plant in Destrehan, and was transported via the riverboat ‘Petrolia”. Gayle Robert, General Manager of Robert Distributing related, “Dad would tell us stories about how in the old days many barrels of gasoline had to be rolled up the levee and loaded onto the back of trucks by hand. There were no tank trucks back then so the gas had to be delivered to his customers in 55 gallon barrels loaded on the back of his flat bed Model-T truck. When it rained too much, horses and wagons had to be used to service anyone who was off the main gravel highway.”


Vallie Hernandez Roberts

In 1935 Roland married the former Vallie Hernandez of St. Gabriel. The Mexican Petroleum Company had been renamed and the Roberts were ready to raise a family and move forward. As distributors for the Pan-Am Petroleum Company, the hard-working young couple went about the task of making a life for their family. They could not have known then that the near future would bring them so close to ruin as the ‘Depression Era’ hit. Most businesses were seriously affected and the Roberts were no exception.


First gasoline tank truck

But Roland J. Robert, Sr. was at his best when things seemed toughest. Though close to financial ruin, his effectiveness as a businessman combined with his commanding persona and natural leadership stimulated Pan-Am Petroleum to propose that they write off all his debt if he would stay in business. Gayle continued, “Dad never forgot that helping hand and he spent his entire life helping other people get started in business. He was the youngest of 12 children and they were originally rice farmers who later converted to sugar cane. These people grew up knowing one of the biggest reasons for our success today is because he taught us the value of hard work. We grew up right behind the bulk plant. We owned cattle, horses, chickens and pigs and the kids helped bail hay, and we fed and milked the animals early in the morning before school. We all raised 4-H calves, rabbits and chickens and to this day we work in our business every day.”


Old Landry's station on Burnside across from
Lamendola's Supermarket

In the 1930’s and 1940’s Mr. Robert’s businesses were primarily small service stations and farm accounts. He was a pioneer, a philanthropist, an entrepreneur, a builder, and a friend. In 1950, as the petrochemical industry grew, so did his business. Ormet was one of the first to move to the area and purchased land from Roland, along with the brother who owned Remy Robert Brothers Farm. The Waguespack family also sold and relocated. This was the beginning of industry in this area. Roland would often stay up all night going out to construction sites to fill the bull dozers and equipment and have them ready for work early the next morning. The growing population was also good for his business and in return he helped countless numbers of his neighbors get started in their own businesses. For some he would build gas stations and promise that someone would run it and but their gas from them. “Later he would work out financial arrangements for them to repay him whatever they could over the next 10-15 years,” said Gayle. Tureau’s Grocery is an example of the generosity of Mr. Robert. Times were very hard back then and Roland Robert was instrumental in giving them a star. That business still supports their family today. Occasionally someone from town would enter Purpera Lumber Company and say they were building a house. They would pick out all the lumber and things they needed, and they would tell Mr. Purpera to put it on Roland Robert, Sr.’s account. Mr. Purpera didn’t hesitate because he too was given his start through the generosity of Mr. Robert.


From left to right: Unknown, Roland Robert, Sr., Robert Mire (Uncle Bob) and Hulin Robert

“In today’s economy, companies must be constantly ‘managed’ if they are to survive. You have to stay at the front of the pack technologically and systematically if you want to thrive,” continued Gayle.  “Shell offered us the best change to do that so the decision was made to convert our Texaco C-stores to Shell Super-Stops. They offered us the most dynamic and aggressive new image and marketing strategies. When Chevron bought Texaco, initially it decided it would no longer use the Texaco brand for its gasoline outlets. The naming rights took affect in 2004 so individually owned stations had the option to change to any brand during that time. We were never unhappy with Texaco and we certainly would have preferred not to incur the expensive costs for the conversion, but we are very proud of the bright new look of our outlets and we believe Shell will

become the dominant brand in the area. I think it is a great relationship for Robert Distributing and for Shell.  We also have a great business relationship with Chevron and with independents as some of our locations were converted to those brands for a variety of reason.”



“We want to be the leader in our field for this area,” said Gayle Robert. “The economy is in a tough period and competition is fierce. Consumer education is paramount to us. There are so many unbranded gasoline outlets, many of whom are willing to price gas below their cost in order to lure customers into their other businesses making pricing very sensitive. These unbranded gasolines lack important additives that make the gas burn cleaner,

protecting valves and keeping sludge from forming. It is important that people understand the lack of protection these products do that affect their engines. As automobile is a large investment but so many people lose sight of protecting that investment when simply searching for the cheapest gas.  In the long run it really doesn’t pay off but we also realize that, in many cases, it is pricing that will govern many people’s decisions on where they purchase gas.”


Back row L to R: Gayle Robert, Harry Robert, Al Robert, Dan Robert. Front row L to R: Roland J. Robert, Val Ann Holder, Steve Robert

The Robert family has a long history of community involvement through their participation in various civic and social organizations in Ascension Parish. Since the 1920’s they have sought to not just serve the community, they have literally helped build the community. “We realize that the success we have enjoyed is due to the tremendous support we have received from the people of this area,” said Gayle. “We also owe a great deal to the wonderful employees that we have been lucky to have, some of whom worked for the company for as many as forty years or more. It is our privilege to serve this community and we vow to strive to continually find new ways to improve the service to Ascension Parish.”


Original bulk plant tanks from the 30's still being used today

‘The Cabin’ Restaurant, Robert Insurance, Holiday Inn & Mike Anderson’s Seafood, Ascension Equipment and Robert Distribution are only a few of the companies that, over the years, have served to make life in Ascension Parish as wonderful as it is today. “Shell Super Stop” is the latest example of how this family continues to find new and wonderful ways to make Ascension and the surrounding area ‘the very best place to live.’


 © Copyright 2011 Roland J. Robert Distributor, Inc.

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    © Copyright 2012 Roland J. Robert Distributor, Inc.