NATIONAL REPORT — Over the past several years the convenience channel has been working hard to shed the image of "gas station food" and position themselves as a key competitor to restaurants. It is succeeding and the efforts are rewarded with customer loyalty.
"They're everywhere, convenience stores, a fact of life, often not all that pleasant to deal with. Every now and then, however, a regional chain comes along, inspiring — typically through an array of prepared food offerings, because isn't food always the way to people's hearts — what appears to be almost unshakeable loyalty," said David Landsel, senior editor of Food & Wine.
"Barbecue. Fried chicken. Italian hoagies stuffed with cured meats, deep-fried burritos, breakfast pizzas. You name it, we're eating it at the gas station, and sometimes, what we are eating is seriously delicious," he added.
In a recent report, Food & Wine explored the convenience store world to find out how happy customers would be to come back to a c-store — either for a bite to eat, a cup of coffee, or an ice cream, or more. Here are the report's top five rankings:
Lake Jackson, Texas-based Buc-ee's has grown to become a well-known roadside site in Texas — and soon to be other areas of the Southeast — for its large footprint and numerous fueling positions. However, the report called out its house brand snack foods like the Beaver Nuggets, and its barbecue and Texas-sized drink lineup.
2. Wawa Inc.
In addition to its made-to-order Hoagies and its coffee offerings, among other menu items, Pennsylvania-based Wawa "is where life happens," according to the magazine.
3. Stewart's Shops
Based in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Stewart's Shops doesn't have to expand outside its upstate New York and Vermont footprint to succeed. The chain gives its customers what it wants, from pre-dawn buttered rolls and hot coffee, to after-dinner ice cream cones. "Speaking of the latter, the amount of product the relatively small company produces under its own, unapologetically classic brand is impressive," the report added.
A cross-state competitor to Wawa, Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz is called out for its partnership with Philadelphia's brewery Evil Genius, as well as for its 24-hour menu that includes Quesaritos, totchos, and fried macaroni and cheese bites.
Savannah, Ga.-based Parker's has expanded its Southern-style menu from its roots in Georgia to South Carolina's Lowcountry. The report recognized the c-store retailer for its "fresh, never frozen" chicken tenders, sweet tea and biscuits.
Food & Wine's best convenience stores rankings also recognizes:
- Casey's General Stores
- United Dairy Farmers
- Royal Farms
- Kum & Go
- Turkey Hill
- Cumberland Farms
- Byrne Dairy