The best healthy choices on the road from Louisiana to Las Vegas
Last month, I embarked on a 2,500-mile road trip across six states eating exclusively at 20 different convenience stores. It was a fun way to journey to industry’s largest annual trade show — the NACS Show in Las Vegas — where I was scheduled to speak.
Although I spend a lot of time promoting convenience retailing’s healthful offerings, I was joined by a good friend who does the exact opposite: Al Hebert is the Gas Station Gourmet. He’s a writer and speaker who reports on topics like the best gas station barbecue, Cajun fare, or cheeseburger. Al often jokes that he’ll one day bring me over to the “deep-fried side of life.”
We may be the yin and yang of convenience stores, but we’re both passionate about what we see in the industry. The truth is that some of America’s most unique and delicious food can be found at the local gas station. Family recipes, small-town charm, or innovative concepts from entrepreneurs who need the extra foot traffic to grow their business. Sometimes you also find chains with big ideas and the resources to bring them to fruition.
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Our road trip was designed to showcase the best the industry has to offer. And as I’ve written previously, that has come to include healthful options. If you’re ever near these five stations, be sure to stop for a visit.
Ceviche 365 | Dallas, TX
Ceviche 365 is one of the best restaurants that I’ve encountered in 2018.
For those who are unfamiliar, ceviche is a traditional Peruvian dish made with raw fish and cured with lime juice. Having grown up around it, owner Cesar Florez became frustrated by the lack of quality options in Dallas. He took a risk and left his job to open a restaurant of his own.
The result is Ceviche 365. Caesar operates in a small portion of the Fox Fuels location on Harry Hines Boulevard in Dallas — an enormous gas station with chandeliers in the place of normal lights. The frequent influx of customers helps build brand awareness and spread the word about his restaurant.
The food is incredible. Every dish is made by hand with passion, and there’s a wide variety of fresh and healthy ingredients. Al raved about it for days.
Emerge Artisan Juicery | Lafayette, LA
This was actually the second year that Al and I took a road trip together. In 2017, I tried unsuccessfully to introduce him to cold-pressed juice made by Lee’s Fresh Sushi and Deli — a convenience store in Memphis, Tennessee. He said it resembled floodwater.
Fortunately for Al, Emerge Artisan Juicery recently opened inside a Chevron station in Lafayette, Louisiana — the starting city on this year’s road trip. They have a diverse menu that also includes avocado toast, wraps, bowls, omelettes and more.
Al and I sampled a variety of cold-pressed juice. It’s some of the best that I’ve ever encountered. I also snuck in a few wheatgrass shots without telling Al about the intense flavor, but he really did enjoy the juice. He works at the nearby KADN News15 station, so I think he’ll return soon.
Latitudes | Rio Rancho, NM
There’s a lot of channel-blurring in today’s retail world, and sometimes a convenience store crosses over into other areas like groceries.
At Latitudes in Rio Rancho, New Mexico — a short drive from Albuquerque — I found a Caesar salad that looked fantastic. However, I was in the mood for something a bit more substantial. Since Latitudes also carries a small selection of fresh produce, I purchased a package of two avocados and added them to the salad.
The result was a delicious, healthy meal that got me through a long drive to our next destination.
Buc-ee’s | Multiple locations across Texas
They say everything’s bigger in Texas, and that’s certainly true about Buc-ee’s. This chain of convenience stores likes to be big and bold. The New Braunfels location holds the record for the world’s largest convenience store at 68,000 square feet, and it also has approximately 128 fueling locations. Other locations often feature a similar design with only slightly less space.
Buc-ee’s may be famous for their humorous billboards and sparkling-clean restrooms, but they’re also a food service destination. Customers can find everything from dozens of varieties of beef jerky to pastries, kolaches, the top-rated convenience store coffee in the United States, touchscreen-based menus — and healthful fare.
For grab-and-go options, Buc-ee’s always has open-air coolers full of fresh-cut fruit, salads, and more. During this trip, Al enjoyed a freshly-prepared chicken and Caesar wrap that was jam-packed with greens. We even stopped again the next day so he could order another.
Kwik Chek | Multiple locations across Texas and Oklahoma
Although Al and I stopped at Kwik Chek for their famous breakfast tacos — made fresh in a full-service kitchen — I also noticed an abundance of fruit and vegetables.
At the flagship store in Spicewood, Texas, there is a display full of bananas, apples, cantaloupe, pineapples, oranges, and potatoes surrounded by Topo Chico sparkling water.
Al also enjoyed fresh coffee brewed in a single-step Schaerer machine. These are becoming increasingly popular in convenience stores. They grind the coffee beans for each cup while automating tasks that are normally performed by a barista.
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Frank Beard is a speaker, writer, and convenience retailing advocate from Des Moines, Iowa. He is also a regular contributor to NACS Daily, NACS Magazine, and an analyst/evangelist for convenience store trends at GasBuddy. You can find Frank on Twitter @FrankBeard, on Instagram @30DaysofGasStationFood, and on LinkedIn.