More and more people are recognizing the gourmet options available at gas stations across the country.
At the end of December of last year, NPR’s food blog, The Salt, profiled some of the hottest dining destinations located in – of all places – gas stations. While NACS (The Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing) has long been covering innovative foodservice in gas stations and convenience stores, much of America seems to only now be recognizing the numerous roadside options available.
Their blog profiled several locations that members of the NACS community may be familiar with, including Miami’s El Carajo International Tapas and Wines, a well-known bakery/wine store/restaurant nestled inside a CITGO filling station that NACS Magazine wrote about in February.
After spending years in Italy, owner Richard Fonseca, who operates El Carajo with his wife and three sons, got the idea to turn his humble gas business into a high-quality, sit-down restaurant. “In Italy,” he told The Salt, “when you stop at a gas station, you can get a gourmet bottle of wine.” That love of food and wine, along with his entrepreneurial savvy, gave birth to El Carajo, where chef Luis Barbosa mans the kitchen, preparing some of the best tapas, paellas, and cakes around.
While it may seem surprising to some, the pairing of food and fuel has long made sense. NACS Vice President of Strategic Industry Initiatives Jeff Lenard explained that gourmet restaurants have long wanted to be in locations where people gather – so where better than a gas station? Further, with the small profit margins on fuel, more and more small business owners are seeking alternates to drive profits. “Food is increasingly a great way to do that,” said Lenard, as retailers are teaming up with chefs who are themselves looking to take advantage of more affordable spaces out of which to work.
Also profiled in the NPR report were Seoul Food D.C., a Korean/Japanese fusion restaurant inside an Exxon in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Wheaton, Md.; Whoa Nellie Deli in Lee Vining, Calif., a local culinary fixture that operates at a Mobil station set on a hilltop on the edge of the Sierra Nevada mountains; and North Carolina’s Saxapahaw General Store, attached to a Shell, whose owners have managed to create not just a restaurant but a whole farmers-market-like experience.