TULSA, Okla. -- After three years of planning and renovating, 35 QuikTrip stores in the Tulsa area are now equipped to offer the chain's new QT Kitchens foodservice concept.
With redesigned interiors and display fixtures for sandwiches, wraps and fruit cups that hit the shelves fresh every day, the concept focuses on fresh foods, according to a report in the Tulsa World. "It's been a long-term initiative," QuikTrip spokesperson Mike Thornbrugh, told the newspaper. "It's been in the works for four years, and now we're rolling it out."
In 2002, the Tulsa-based chain took an in-depth look at the convenience store industry and made a company-altering decision to transform into more of a destination instead of a brief stop for a fill-up and cup of coffee. Offer fresh food, the company decided. Every day, the newspaper said.
The products and ingredients for the program originate from a somewhat hidden, 40,000-square-foot production facility in an industrial park in Tulsa. QT Kitchens is fronted by a small fleet of seven refrigerated delivery trucks, and inside, 95 employees start their workday early by preparing thousands of lunch items that rival any number of local fast-food and quick-casual eateries, according to the newspaper.
Convenience doesn't have to mean prepackaged, made-somewhere-else products with a long shelf life, the company maintains. Privately held QuikTrip won't divulge its investment in QT Kitchens or the revamped stores, but "it's substantial," Thornbrugh said. The program began at 12 locations, and now 35 stores have been renovated to incorporate new fixtures and the latest grab-and-go foods.
"We're excited," he said. "This is huge. And almost 100 new jobs; that's not a bad deal."
Spicy Southwestern chicken wraps and lettuce- and tomato-filled turkey sandwiches are just the latest offerings to show up in local QuikTrip stores. First the company revamped its beverage stations, adding space in stores to accommodate new frozen and energy drinks and coffee, hot chocolate and milk shake machines. QuikTrip now also sells its own in-house brand of Colombian and decaffeinated Colombian ground coffee.
The next step in enticing customers to linger after fueling their cars and grabbing a coffee or soda came in the form of doughnuts, cookies and other fresh-baked goods. A QT Kitchens bakery opened in early 2005, and those sweets began popping up in stores last September. At the same time, three locations were remodeled to taste-test a sampling of cold sandwiches, hot dogs and hot chicken- and beef-stuffed taquitos. Egg rolls now round out the hot-food case, and fresh fruit cups are displayed near the wraps and sandwiches.
Everything from the displays, the rearranged counters and the food was planned out in minute detail months before any stores were redesigned, Thornbrugh said. Two different store mockups were constructed at the QT Kitchens facility and filled with every product actually sold in each store so the company could decide on the best floor plan and the most advantageous placement.
"We built them over two years ago," Thornbrugh said. "Then we tweaked them." And with the competition in mind, it was all worked out secretly. "It was highly confidential; no one knew what we were doing," said QT Kitchens manager Jeremy Stanford.
Stores remained open during renovation work so the transition was fairly seamless, Thornbrugh said. "The key to this whole thing is we're going to change the stereotype that convenience stores can't have fresh, high-quality foods."
In a chilly, 40-degree stainless steel production room at QT Kitchens, employees working in assembly-line style put together sandwiches layer by layer. At the end of the line, the products are wrapped and packaged.
With 33 stores to supply, "We're making about 3,000 a day," Stanford said, although QT Kitchens has the capabilities, and staff, to produce from 10,000 to 15,000 sandwiches every day. And in true QuikTrip fashion, the facility was built with the future in mind, Thornbrugh added. "We overbuild because we know we'll grow into it."
QuikTrip hired a chef to create the lunch menu and dream up new offerings. "We gave him carte blanche to find the best ingredients," Thornbrugh said.
Research looked at what was already available, and feedback was gleaned from focus groups. So far, "We have come up with 100 different food offerings," Thornbrugh said, and recipes and flavors represent every imaginable ethnicity. "You name it, we'll be testing it."And the innovation won't end at the food, according to the report. On the radar now and being tested at one location is a touch-screen at the fuel pumps that lets customers order items from inside the store without having to go inside. "In the next six months, in the next nine months, we're going to be doing all kinds of things," Thornbrugh said. "Our customer two years from now won't recognize us."