John Dan Gielen, who founded the chain of ShopRite and Tobacco Plus convenience stores that grew across Louisiana, died Wednesday at his home in Crowley after a battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 79.
Gielen opened his first ShopRite convenience store in 1966 in his hometown of Crowley. He launched the Tobacco Plus chain in 1993 and now has 62 stores across Louisiana, with more than 750 employees.
Louis Saab, a cousin of Gielen who has worked for ShopRite/Tobacco Plus for more than 40 years, said Gielen had always wanted to go into business for himself.
“With the help of his mother and his aunt, he was able to build a store on some existing property they owned in Crowley,” said Saab, who serves as vice president of fuel operations for ShopRite/Tobacco Plus.
Gielen was always appreciative of his employees. When someone tried to give him credit for the growth of the chain, he was quick to give credit to the great group of people he had working for him, Saab said. “He was employee oriented and he recognized the importance of our contributions,” he said.
In 2001, Gielen purchased Church Point Wholesale. That company, which serves as a wholesaler to grocery and convenience stores around the state, now has more than 230 employees.
Gielen was known as a tireless worker who made frequent trips to his stores. “We’re building a new store in Marksville, and he was part of a group that went up there last week to check on it,” Saab said.
Gielen was also remembered as a patriot and a supporter of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church and St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital.
The family is asking that in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions should be made to St. Jude’s, Carmelite Monastery, Notre Dame Catholic High School, and/or Juliana Gerami Foundation at the Community Foundation of Acadiana.