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54 • FOODSERVICE EQUIPMENT & SUPPLIES • MARCH 2017 transformed things. Stores can fix hot, prepared meals very fast. What you can now do in a small space is remarkable." Today's c-store operators are far more educated about equipment and menu creation and far more interested in what's available, adds Mike Lawshe, president and CEO of Paragon Solutions, a c-store design and consulting firm based in Fort Worth, Texas. "They are bringing in multiple ovens in test kitchens to try them out before rolling them out. It's no longer a canned program. Operators are now more interested in going a little further with food and creat- ing their own brand." Overall, the curve continues to quickly ramp up for c- store food, says Lawshe. "It's an entirely different world right now. C-stores are hiring chefs, both on staff and/or to help them create menus, or hiring chefs as consultants if hiring isn't an option. They are investing more in the physical space allocated for food, in presentation, equipment and in com- petent employees that can make the equipment sing. C-store operators are definitely taking food seriously." The Gold Standard: Sheetz and Wawa It would be impossible to talk about foodservice in the conve- nience store industry without mentioning two dominant play- ers: Sheetz and Wawa. Both based in Pennsylvania (in Altoona and Wawa, respectively), each squarely connects its identity with food. Wawa's claim to fame is its hoagies. Sheetz dominates the made-to-order (branded Sheetz MTO) space and is a leader when it comes to touchscreen ordering systems. Each of these privately owned family businesses holds a spot on the Forbes list of America's Largest Private Compa- nies. Wawa comes in at No. 36 with $8.9 billion in revenues, and Sheetz ranks at No. 55, with $6.3 billion in revenues. The two chains also share strong roots in favoring foodservice over gasoline. In fact, Wawa didn't even add fuel until 1996. Its business evolved from the dairy home-delivery model back in the 1960s. In similar fashion, Sheetz grew out of dairy stores. And both remain in expansion mode. "They are both food-forward c-stores, have been doing it for a long time and are really good at it," says Portalatin. Portalatin places 7-Eleven at the other end of the food spectrum, as it offers a wide array of grab-and-go items rather than food freshly prepared on-site. "The landscape of foodservice in the c-store industry is vast," he notes. "And the majority of c-store operators fit somewhere in the middle of the spectrum." Within that wide spectrum of c-store food, a unique set of operators find success. They clearly reflect the adage that c-stores have evolved from being gas stations that happen to sell food to now being food stores that happen to sell gas. That notion holds 100 percent true for Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que, which gained notoriety for being both a restau- rant and a gas station. An Anthony Bourdain Endorsement The gas station/c-store connection holds no stigma for Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que in Kansas City, Kan. "It works in our favor, actually," says Doug Worgul, director of market- ing. That novelty of eating great food in a gas station drives business, although Anthony Bourdain gets the credit for put- ting the operation on the map. He anointed the restaurant 1 of the 13 Places to Eat Before You Die and now customers regularly take pictures next to the in-store plaque to declare they have accomplished that task. "There is a sense of discovery for people when they drive up. It feels like they discovered a little hole-in-the-wall spot," says Worgul. "We succeeded here because the food is really good. It's consistently good, day in and day out. You cannot cut corners." It might reside within a gas station, but this c-store oper- ates like a restaurant. Owners Jeff and Joy Stehney (the Joe in the restaurant's name is a nod to a former business partner) ended up owning the gas station a bit by circumstance. After they discovered a knack for barbeque and won several competitions, family and friends started to inquire about cater- ing. That led to the need for storage and equipment, which Above: While each of the three Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que restaurants operates self- sufficiently with smokers, the first location, housed in a the gas station, has the largest capacity, with a total of six smokers. Left: The Shamrock gas station side of the business sells Joe's KCBBQ's signature sauces.