18 Oct Fill your tank—and your foodie cravings—at the gas station?
Image: El Carajo Restaurant in Miami, FL
Yes, you read that right. Gas stations, known for hot dog rollers and Slushy machines, are becoming the next hot source of culinary delights. With influences from other popular hospitality trends like food trucks and South American cuisine, the major convenience factor for guests gives stations a leg up in the competition.
From coast-to-coast, restaurants located within gas stations exist in small towns and along major thoroughfares. Though gas station restaurant concepts are hardly new, as evidenced by the award-winning Chef Point Café, an Italian-American eatery located in Texas, founded in 2003 and featured on a 2009 episode of Guy Fieri’s Diners Drive-Ins and Dives, it is of late that gas station restaurants have been on the rise as a place to get not just “good eats”, but innovation in foodservice.
Some, like Washington’s Seoul Food D.C., are food truck vendors who moved into a station to keep up with demand in a more stable space. NPR explained the rise of gas station cuisine in this article in late 2014. “Owners are teaming up with chefs who are themselves looking to take advantage of more affordable spaces out of which to work.” The trend makes financial sense for both gas station owners and restauranteurs. Owners typically don’t make much money off of gasoline sales alone, NPR adds, so adding products and services, including food items, becomes a welcome opportunity to turn a profit.
Dining options inside gas stations come from a variety of styles and cuisines, as explained in USA Today. In Miami, El Carajo is a famed local restaurant that happens to be a wine store, tapas and bakery café located within a BP station. The tapas and wine bar’s website states, “Don’t let the humble exterior fool you.” There, guests can find dishes like Ceviche de Corvina, one of the restaurant’s signature menu items. Marinated in citrus fruits, green and red peppers, red onions and cilantro, the soft-flavored ceviche is topped with shredded plantains. The El Carajo menu derives influence from Madrid and Barcelona, Spain where exquisite food can be found anywhere from street corners, to sidewalk stands, to perhaps even gas stations.
The upside to operators, aside from lower overhead costs, is the ability to reach consumers in a more convenient way. Guests seek faster and easier ways to feed their families than ever before, and providing original menu options beyond just fast food or traditional gas station snacks like soda and potato chips surprises and delights diners. For restaurant owners, gas stations are becoming an unexpected source of competition in an unexpected destination. Whether you are an operator already benefiting from this new dining segment or part of the competition who fears stealing wallet-share, it is evident that customers are now enjoying a wide range of establishments to get their foodie fixes; some are just more convenient than others.