Moroccan-spiced goat burgers with a roasted tomato and olive tapenade is not something you’d see at the typical country gas station, but then Saxapahaw General Store never claimed to be one.

“If you don’t do something special, you can jump aboard the cookie-cutter machine,” says Jeff Barney, who founded the store with his wife, Cameron Ratliff. “But we’re not interested in a single bottom line.”

The retailer is celebrating 10 years in the business by not doing things the typical way. Barney, who has a grocery background and a philosophy degree, is passionate about his store’s role as a provider  of “really great food in a non-pretentious environment.” Besides those amazing burgers, other delights include duck bacon sandwiches with blueberry ketchup, scallops and “Eggs Catalan,” a brunch dish  with pancetta and artichoke served on toast.

But while the food may sound gourmet, Saxapahaw General Store  is by no means targeting higher-income customers. Instead, it is there to provide fresh, “real” food with clean ingredients in what Barney describes as a rural food desert—and at an affordable price to boot.

On the forecourt, Saxapahaw offers ethanol-free gasoline and will have an electric-vehicle charging station soon. Meanwhile, a second location—more grocery than c-store—is slated to open within the next two years in an urban food desert. Many c-store retailers struggle with offering fresh and healthful food, worried that customers won’t buy what they say they will.  Barney is sympathetic—to a point. “I understand that fear,” he says, “but if we operated under that  fear, we wouldn’t be here.”

"Your local five-star gas station" serves fresh and locally sourced food with a gourmet twist to its rural food desert.

Photograph courtesy of Lauren Brennan