Convenience Store Foodservice Turning Heads

USA Today highlights several retailers’ gourmet offerings

USA Today highlights several convenience retailers’ gourmet offerings

Chef's Point: Mundane on the outside, gourmet on the inside

WASHINGTON -- From Washington, D.C., to the shores of Hawaii, a recent USA Today article points out the growing trend of gourmet food being sold in convenience stores and features a handful of locations hitting the mark across the country.

Washington, D.C.’s Fast Gourmet Valero greets customers with a massive chalkboard hanging high above the cash register. It lists delightful dishes such as yellowfin tuna steak, spinach pie and the famous chivito, a tenderloin-and-ham sandwich overflowing with mozzarella, bacon, green olives and hard-boiled eggs.

Most everything is made from scratch, Lina Almiron, a petite, 28-year-old Colombian woman who runs Fast Gourmet with her Argentinian husband, Fernando, told the newspaper. It's also clean. Really clean. Even the restroom.

Tiled with dark, natural stone, "people say it's the best bathroom in a gas station they've ever seen," Almiron said proudly. "It's about the wow factor. We try to make it comfortable for people."

In Watauga, Texas, Paula Nwaeze is co-owner of Chef Point Cafe, a restaurant attached to a Conoco gas station that serves escargot in garlic wine butter, scallops in curry sauce and duck breast with spicy plum sauce.

"Our revenue has increased every year we have been in business," Nwaeze says. In 2009, Chef Point was featured on the Food Network.

Similar success has come to Greg Parker, president and CEO of Parker's Market Urban Gourmet in Savannah, Ga. "We currently do $6 million in annual sales," Parker said. "Our store was actually picked by TripAdvisor last year as the fourth-best restaurant in the city."

That's probably because the crab stew consistently wins awards. And the extensive wine list works well with the upscale Southern comfort foods served, USA Today reported. “It's charming, 6,000-square-foot space doesn't hurt, either. A renovated automobile dealership from the late 1800s with Mediterranean-style architecture, it is certainly eye-catching, a place where you want to linger.”

"Our head chef trained under the tutelage of her grandmother," Parker said. "We all revere her food."

Beyond the upscale cuisine at these eateries, there are even more surprises. The Green Spot in Dallas has a local market each week featuring Dallas-based artists. Uptown Chevron Food Mart & Car Wash in Maui has a cashier who knows customers by name. And Tioga Gas Mart in Lee Vining, Calif., hosts weekly concerts in the summertime so you can sit there and enjoy lobster taquitos while sipping on a mango margarita. The owners are adding a large outdoor patio with a park-like theme.

"When this is completed, we will be booking wedding events," said Denise Molnar, Tioga Gas Mart's manager.

Sometimes it’s tough to sell customers that the product is as good as it sounds, the newspaper reported. When Saxapahaw General Store, which is housed in an abandoned cotton mill, first opened in Saxapahaw, N.C., "people thought we were nuts," chef and co-owner Jeff Barney, who serves gourmet goat burgers and scallops over applewood bacon with succotash, said.

But Barney, and others, have proved the naysayers wrong.