At first glance, most c-store menus tell a similar story. But a closer look often reveals surprising details: creative cross-utilization; a new ingredient that emphasizes true flavor innovation; or a preparation that underscores quality.
Here we’re highlighting the convenience industry’s 2016 Menu Makers, 40 food and beverage offerings that run the gamut from traditional to unexpected. Take a closer look at these menu megastars.
Maverik's Kung Fu Chicken Wrap
Retailer: Maverik Location: North Salt Lake, Utah Trend: Hot & Spicy
Known for its spicy menu rollouts, the chain has focused lately on Thai flavor influences with a new Southeast Asian-inspired Kung Fu Chicken Wrap. It features spicy chicken, coleslaw, sesame dressing and a Thai-style peanut sauce.
QuickChek's Ghost Pepper Chicken BLT
Retailer: QuickChek Location: Whitehouse Station, N.J. Trend: Hot & Spicy
“We’ve had many creative LTOs over the years,” says Jennifer Vespole, QuickChek’s director of foodservice. “Most recently, we introduced the Ghost Pepper Chicken BLT sandwich.” It combines ghost-pepper chili sauce and Caesar dressing on a Portuguese roll with crispy breaded chicken, fresh mozzarella, shredded Parmesan and bacon. “We loved it and so did our customers.”
Village Pantry's spicy sausage
Retailer: Village Pantry Location: Richmond, Va. Trend: Hot & Spicy
Village Pantry, a GPM Investments brand, has a pepper-tinged spicy sausage served off the roller grill and paired with a dollop of spicy chipotle, Sriracha ranch, creamy ranch or spicy deli mustard.
GetGo's Fiery Jack Burger
Retailer: Giant Eagle GetGo Location: Pittsburgh Trend: Hot & Spicy
The Fiery Jack Burger from GetGo, which regularly goes for broke with bold LTOs, piles on some serious heat with a burger topped with jalapeno peppers, hot pepper cheese, chipotle mayo, roasted peppers and onions.
Creative sandwiches abound at The Market at Tiger Fuel Co., with chicken, beef and other proteins being crossutilized in interesting ways. One such example is the Wahoo Nation sandwich, with spicy chipotle chicken, havarti cheese, sweet-and-spicy barbecue sauce, lettuce and banana peppers on whole-grain ciabatta bread.
Sheetz's Kickin’ Chicken Sausage Sandwich
Retailer: Sheetz Location: Altoona, Pa. Trend: Hot & Spicy
A breakfast daypart tastemaker that’s also healthy, the Kickin’ Chicken Sausage Sandwich spices up a chicken sausage patty and egg whites with hot pepper cheese and habanero peppers.
Coen’s Ruff Creek Market menu is popular among its customer base for its signature item: JoJo’s—hand-cut potato wedges, tossed in a signature, seasoned breading and then fried until crispy.
Circle K's Zesty Italian Big Hot Dog
Retailer: Circle K Location: Laval, Quebec Trend: Snacks & Handhelds
One of the continent’s largest c-store chains is getting creative with regional and ethnic spins on the classic rollergrill hot dog with Real Chicago, Real Southern Style, Real Cubano and Real Salty hot-dog varieties. Hitting on the spice trend, it also offers a Zesty Italian Big Hot Dog.
Wawa is well-known for its wide array of hoagies, but one Thanksgiving-themed hoagie LTO stands out: The Gobbler. “The combination of stuffing, turkey and cranberry sauce on a fresh-baked roll delivers a hoagie experience unlike any other,” says Mendy Meriwether, Wawa’s category manager for fresh foods. “It takes one of our top hoagies, turkey, to another level.”
Freshness cues abound in the chain’s Fresh to Go line, which includes the Cilantro Lime Flatbread. It layers grilled chicken breast strips, pepper Jack cheese, pico de gallo and cilantro-lime mayo between two slices of flatbread.
Retailer: RaceTrac Location: Atlanta Trend: Snacks & Handhelds
RaceTrac’s kolaches, Czech-style puff pastries, are available in Breakfast Sausage and Jalapeno & Cheese varieties; they’re craveable bites for breakfast or as a peppery snack any time of day.
The Bourbon Ball Donut is a seasonal sweet that pops up in connection with the Kentucky Derby; it features bourbon-flavored filling and icing with a pecan on top. Other signature doughnuts from Thorntons include the Salted Caramel Donut with caramel icing topped with sea salt.
Family Express' Orange Dreamsicle Doughnut
Retailer: Family Express Location: Valparaiso, Ind. Trend: Sweets & Treats
Doughnuts are a trademark menu item for Family Express, which makes them in a central bakery. The Orange Dreamsicle Doughnut brings a freezer favorite to the bakery case.
One of the leading flavor trends in the restaurant sphere has been the pairing of sweet and salty profiles. Enmarket recently leveraged this trendy dessert influence for its latest specialty coffee drink, the new Caramel & Sea Salt Macchiato.
In addition to its deli, grab-and-go and hot food assortment, Vintners’ higher-end convenience brand Loop Neighborhood offers a robust coffee program. Its latest rollout takes on the coconut trend with a Coconut Caramel Javafresco drink.
Casey's Spinach Artichoke Chicken Pizza
Retailer: Casey’s General Stores Location: Ankeny, Iowa Trend: Unique pizzas
Casey's has a wide range of specialty pies in its signature pizza like, including a taco pizza topped with crumbled nacho chips added after cooking, a mac & cheese pizza, and its decadent spinach artichoke chicken pizza.
Pilot Flying J's Chicken Teriyaki Pizza
Retailer: Pilot Flying J Location: Knoxville, Tenn. Trend: Unique pizzas
The travel center chain’s Chicken Teriyaki Pizza is an Asian-inspired specialty pie that showcases chicken breast strips and mozzarella drizzled with teriyaki sauce.
FasTrac's Chicken Spiedie Pizza
Retailer: FasTrac Location: East Syracuse, N.Y. Trend: Unique pizzas
A spiedie is a regional sandwich beloved in New York state, made with chunks of marinated chicken, beef, pork or other proteins. New York-area convenience brand FasTrac takes its inspiration from the spiedie for its specialty pie, the Chicken Spiedie Pizza. It’s made with a base of olive oil, vinegar and Italian seasonings, topped with marinated chicken, mozzarella, and grated cheddar and Parmesan cheeses.
Kwik Trip's Chicken Carbonara Pizza
Retailer: Kwik Trip Location: La Crosse, Wis. Trend: Unique pizzas
Kwik Trip’s robust LTO pizza lineup, from Spicy Chicken & Chorizo Pizza to Bratwurst Pizza, has been a winning menu platform for the chain. “The LTO program allows us to experiment with nontraditional pizzas and find out what our guests are looking for,” says Paul Servais, Kwik Trip’s retail foodservice director. “It adds variety to the pizza menu without expanding the menu to the point it becomes unmanageable.” What’s Kwik Trip’s superstar pizza LTO? The Chicken Carbonara Pizza, now a permanent menu item, was Kwik Trip’s most requested LTO.
Nice N Easy's Angry Chicken Mac N Cheese Bowl
Retailer: Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes Location: Canastota, N.Y. Trend: Big & Bold
This foodservice stalwart under the recently acquired CST Brands launched a line of hearty bowl meals, including an Angry Chicken Mac N Cheese Bowl. It tops a creamy cheddar macaroni and cheese with hot-sauce-smothered chicken tenders.
Royal Farms' Mega Meat Breakfast Sandwich
Retailer: Royal Farms Location: Baltimore Trend: Big & Bold
A gargantuan breakfast LTO from this fried-chicken leader, the new Chef-Inspired Mega Meat Breakfast Sandwich piles on sausage, bacon, ham, hash browns, eggs, American cheese and cheese sauce—all on a potato roll.
Kum & Go's Mega line
Retailer: Kum & Go Location: West Des Moines, Iowa Trend: Big & Bold
The Midwest chain boasts a bigger-is-better sensibility with its own Mega line of sandwiches, including its Mega Angus Charbroil burger, Double Pork Chop sandwich, Mega Rack O’ Ribs sandwich and the Mega Spicy Breaded Chicken sandwich.
Rutter's Rte. 30 Burger
Retailer: Rutter’s Farm Stores Location: York, Pa. Trend: Big & Bold
The Rte. 30 Burger is a towering construction of multiple burgers layered between two grilled cheese sandwiches made with six slices of cheese and six slices of bacon. Ryan Krebs, Rutter’s director of food service, developed the Rte. 30 Burger in late 2015 to “gain conversation” around an “obnoxious, there’s-no-way-you-can-eat-this type of thing.” But what began as a novelty idea has morphed into a truly versatile menu fixture; today, single, double, triple and veggie-patty variations appeal to different customer audiences.
Sprint Foods' Calle Ocho Cuban sandwich
Retailer: Sprint Food Stores Location: Augusta, Ga. Trend: House Specialties
Sprint’s Metro Market concept offers a plethora of restaurant-quality options, particularly its sandwiches. Mojo-marinated pulled pork does double duty in its Calle Ocho Cuban sandwich, topped with ham, melted Swiss cheese and dill pickles, and in its Mojo Pork panini, complemented with caramelized onions, pepper jack cheese, fresh cilantro and lime aioli.
Buc-ee's Pastrami Reuben
Retailer: Buc-ee’s Location: Lake Jackson, Texas Trend: House Specialties
Known for offering nearly every conceivable packaged snack, Buc-ee’s hot food options, such as its Pastrami Reuben, are also noteworthy. This sandwich layers the big flavors of pastrami, peppered bacon, fried onions, pepper jack cheese and sauerkraut with a honey-jalapeno sauce, all on a pretzel bun.
Stripes' Asado de Puerco Rojo taco
Retailer: Stripes Location: Houston Trend: House Specialties
Its in-store Laredo Taco Company takes the standard beef or chicken taco lineup a step further, highlighting more flavorful and authentic choices such as its Asado de Puerco Rojo taco, with a mix of spices, onions and garlic simmered with chunks of tender pork.
In Town Market's Chicken Penne
Retailer: In Town Market Location: Atlanta Trend: House Specialties
In addition to its expected mix of sandwiches and salads, In Town Market is going after the time-starved weekday customer with its line of grab-and-go Dinner Entrees to Go. Nightly rotating meals include Chicken Penne, tossed in a pesto cream sauce.
Tioga Gas Mart's World Famous Fish Tacos
Retailer: Tioga Gas Mart Location: Lee Vining, Calif. Trend: House Specialties
Its Whoa Nellie Deli bills itself as a “casual gourmet” eatery. Listed on its House Specials menu is its World Famous Fish Tacos, a tropical-inspired variety featuring mango salsa and ginger coleslaw.
Taco Urbano's Sopes
Retailer: Taco Urbano Location: Batavia, Ill. Trend: House Specialties
Taco Urbano specializes in flavor-rich tacos, bowls and burritos made with marinated steak, chicken, pork and chorizo for all three dayparts. For quick bites, its Sopes feature corn masa boats topped with beans, cheese and a choice of meats.
Chef Point's Chicken & Waffle
Retailer: Chef Point Location: Watauga, Texas Trend: House Specialties
Located inside a Conoco gas station, Chef Point’s Everyday Comfort Food lineup capitalizes on a super-trendy movement with Chicken & Waffle: seasoned and marinated chicken, deep-fried and served atop a homemade waffle with hot syrup and fresh berries.
Spinx's Legendary Chicken Biscuit
Retailer: Spinx Location: Greenville, S.C. Trend: House Specialties
Spinx calls its Legendary Chicken Biscuit “our best-kept secret,” a breakfast staple that’s differentiated by the quality of its ingredients. Available in original and spicy varieties, the signature morning offering is a simple build of crispy, breaded, all-white-meat chicken served in a flaky buttermilk biscuit.
U-Gas' Sirloin Beef & Cheddar Pretzel Roll
Retailer: U-Gas Location: Fenton, Mo. Trend: House Specialties
Recently joining the Wallis Oil Cos. family, U-Gas Inc.’s Gigi’s Cafe Express brand is “local and guaranteed fresh.” Anchored by a wide variety of sandwiches, its pretzel-roll lineup features offerings such as Sirloin Beef & Cheddar.
Love's Smoked Sausage
Retailer: Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores Location: Oklahoma City Trend: House Specialties
The roller grill is the highlight at Love’s, where the draw is specialty sausage, including spicy/savory flavors such as Cheddar Smoke, Cheddar & Beer Bratwurst, Jalapeno & Cheese Smoked Sausage and Southern Recipe Breakfast Sausage.
NOCO's Lobster Mac & Cheese
Retailer: NOCO Energy Corp. Location: Tonawanda, N.Y. Trend: House Specialties
NOCO Express convenience stores house several foodservice concepts, including Nickel City Foods, a commissary and caterer that offers a gourmet-style spin on macaroni and cheese bowls. Standouts include its Buffalo Mac & Cheese and Lobster Mac & Cheese, with chunks of real lobster, Vermont cheddar cheese sauce and cavatappi pasta.
Cicis' S’mores Dessert Dip
Restaurant: Cicis Location: Multiple locations Trend: Restaurant Ideas to Steal
Consider dips as a dessert or snack item, not just a side. Cicis added a limited-time S’mores Dessert Dip. The craveable item featured melted marshmallows, chocolate drizzle and cinnamon graham crackers for dipping.
Dog Haus' Naughty Dog
Restaurant: Naughty Dog Location: Bel Air, M.D. Trend: Restaurant Ideas to Steal
Hot dogs are due for a topping upgrade, just as operators have been doing with hamburgers. Dog Haus’ LTO Naughty Dog features a spicy Polish kielbasa topped with beer-braised onions, crispy onions and horseradish mayonnaise on a grilled Hawaiian roll.
Little Caesars' Loaded Crazy Bread Bites
Restaurant: Little Caesars Location: Multiple locations Trend: Restaurant Ideas to Steal
Bread can become a portable sweet or savory snack all its own. Little Caesars rolled out Loaded Crazy Bread Bites, bite-sized bread pieces topped with warm cheddar cheese sauce, shredded Muenster and mozzarella, grated Parmesan and bacon pieces. Rival pizza chain Papa John’s debuted Cinnamon Pull-Aparts, a dessert offering featuring sweet-roll bits loaded with cinnamon-sugar, cinnamon crumbles and an icing drizzle.
White Castle's Pretzel Chicken Rings
Restaurant: White Castle Location: Multiple locations Trend: Restaurant Ideas to Steal
Give fried favorites added interest with unexpected coatings. White Castle launched Pretzel Chicken Rings as a variation on the chain’s popular Original Chicken Rings. The new item features O-shaped pieces of white meat chicken with a crunchy pretzel coating and a variety of dipping sauces.