ALTOONA, Pa. -- With back-to-school season in full swing, convenience-store retailer Sheetz is eyeing opportunities for growth on college campuses. The chain announced that it will expand its Sheetz Café concept onto campuses in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Sheetz piloted the Café concept in March 2015, with a fuel-free, foodservice-centric unit close to the West Virginia University campus in Morgantown, W.Va. Since then, there have been openings of Sheetz Café in Pennsylvania near Penn State, as well as its newly launched store on the campus of Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
While no specific timeline has yet been announced, Sheetz says it is also mapping out expansions of the café concept at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Virginia.
How does the café concept differ from traditional Sheetz stores, and what makes it a fit on campus? The downscaled 5,000-square-foot model is likely more suitable for a smaller footprint that relies on foot traffic. Also, the company believes that a streamlined focus on food will provide students with a wider array of made-to-order meals and snacks, and beverage options (including alcohol) will be a big draw.
“It’s a really new concept with us, and we are playing in the sandbox, so to speak, and trying to figure it out,” said Steve Augustine, Sheetz’s assistant vice president of real estate. “The café concept is really influenced by a fairly large college or university. We are really counting on a high amount of foot traffic. Think of Times Square in New York City: That’s the ultimate goal on a smaller scale.”
Students can expect to find Sheetz’s signature Made-to-Order foodservice platform as a focal point of the café concept, as well as snacks, drinks, a creamery with frozen yogurt and ice cream, fresh produce, a beer cave, and indoor and outdoor seating.
“We are really trying to focus on being a casual dining experience rather than relying on fuel,” Augustine told the Post-Gazette. “We think that’s the future: casual food made quickly.”
While Augustine believes the future is bright for Sheetz Café, he admits that expanding this brand offshoot onto college campuses may come with a bit of a learning curve.
“We do a lot of playing around at Sheetz,” he said. “This may work and it may not, but the good news is that we are willing to try different concepts.”