Diverse demand fuels Dubuque-based Rainbo Oil Co. for last century

Rainbo Oil Co.

Founded: 1923

Employees: About 400 people

Corporate address: 2255 Kerper Blvd.

Other locations: Warehouses in seven states, 12 Kwik Stop locations, four Dairy Queen locations, Donut Boy in Dubuque

Website: rainbolubes.com

After 100 years in operation, a Dubuque-headquartered oil company has grown its reach well beyond delivering oil.

“Whatever the culture is asking for, we try to fill that need,” said Paul Fahey, president and owner of Rainbo Oil Co. “We’re not just an oil company.”

Rainbo Oil Co., which has its corporate office at 2255 Kerper Blvd., is celebrating 100 years of business this year. Paul Fahey took over the company from his father, Bernard Fahey, in 1985. Paul’s daughter, Tessa Fahey, currently works in operations development and will take the helm in the future.

Paul Fahey said the Dubuque business was founded in 1923 by four local businessmen, and his father became the company’s general manager in 1940, a position he held for 45 years.

“We started as a coal supply company, and we later became a fuel company,” Paul Fahey said. “We had six service stations in town. In the 1970s, things changed a lot when self-serve gas stations came.”

Paul Fahey worked for the company for most his life, starting in a Rainbo Oil warehouse. He recalled needing to get to a class at Loras College when he was a student and parking a fuel truck outside the dorm to make it to the class.

“A lot of people gave strange looks, but you got to do what you got to do,” he said with a laugh.

Paul Fahey recalls Rainbo Oil’s headquarters being on South Main Street for many years. The headquarters moved to its current Kerper Boulevard location in 1986.

Paul Fahey said the company’s parts division was sold in 2000.

“It grew so big that we couldn’t keep our arms around it,” he said.

From there, the company pivoted toward wholesale acquisitions to sell motor oil outside the Dubuque area, with a goal of making a new acquisition every four or five years. The wholesale side of the business has grown to serve many industries, including car dealers and trucking fleets.

The company now has seven warehouses, including one in Dubuque, and serves eight states: Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Missouri, South Dakota and Michigan.

At the Dubuque warehouse, trucks deliver oil to five to 17 customers a day, depending on the route, Tessa Fahey said. Each truck carries 2,000 to 3,000 gallons of oil to complete its route.


In 1980, Rainbo Oil Co. ventured into additional market spaces. It opened its first convenience store in 1980 and now operates 12 Kwik Stop locations in the tri-state area. It also operates Donut Boy in Dubuque and owns four Dairy Queen locations, acquiring the first one in 1992.

Paul Fahey said the company “stumbled into” Dairy Queens, as he initially was looking at the site of a Dairy Queen in Dubuque for a new convenience store. When meeting with the owner, Paul Fahey learned the business itself was for sale.

“Fast food made some sense,” he said. “We have them adjacent to all our stores, but it’s a separate side of the business. It’s the fun side of the business.”

Across the company — including all convenience stores, Dairy Queens and warehouse locations — Rainbo Oil Co. employs about 400 people, with around 350 in the Dubuque area, Tessa Fahey said.

“Our strength is really our people,” Paul Fahey said. “We operate like a family business, though we have 400 people. Personally, I’m proud to be in Dubuque, and we’re proud to have grown with them.”

The company has also supported the Dubuque community by giving back with events such as Fuel 4 School, an effort that gives 2 cents per gallon back to Dubuque County high schools at designated pumps.

The largest community-oriented effort has been Magical Kwik Stop Christmas, for which the company partners with Catholic Charities to deliver gifts to families. The Faheys said all employees work on the endeavor, and planning begins in July.

“A company can donate money, but that can be kind of impersonal,” Paul Fahey said. “With this, the employees wrap the gifts.”

The company also has a gym at its Dubuque headquarters for employees to use, and Tessa Fahey said they encourage strong work-life balance.

“By taking care of the people that got us here, we want them to love working here as much as we love having them here,” she said.


Paul Fahey said Dubuque is a perfectly sized community for Rainbo Oil Co. while also being close enough to major Midwestern cities to do business.

“I’m proud to have taken over from my father, and someday Tessa will take over,” he said. “So it will be three generations, hopefully four generations someday. It’s not frequently that businesses last three generations anymore. I know there are some here in Dubuque, but it’s more rare than anything.”

Tessa Fahey said the company also has seen people grow into new, higher roles.

“Bernard — Grandpa — he started as a bookkeeper and worked his way up,” she said. “(Paul Fahey) started in the warehouse and worked (his) way up. My first job was at Dairy Queen. We’re really growth focused, and people really have grown their talents as we grow.”

Looking ahead, Tessa Fahey said the company will continue to grow its reach beyond its eight states “step by step,” especially in the wholesale lubricant side of the business.

“(Paul Fahey is) handing off a very strong company that will be able to grow, and I’m going to take full advantage of that,” she said.