Gassy Foods: Thoughts on QuikTrip Chefs and the Evolution of Convenience Store Dining

Gassy Foods: Thoughts on QuikTrip Chefs and the Evolution of Convenience Store Dining
I’m old enough to remember when convenience stores sold over-priced sundries, full-price cigarettes, and pulp fiction from a little wire rack. And that was about it. Sometimes there was a gas pump out front, and that felt like progress.

That gas pump must have done well for the handful of 7-Elevens and Circle Ks that risked it, because at some point the occasional petrol-and-air-pump kiosk in front of U-Totem became a full-on self-serve station, and the convenience market, formerly the entrée, became a side dish.

This, I would have told anyone who asked, wasn’t a terrible idea. It only increased the number of gas stations in town while also providing a clever excuse for purchasing a $7 bag of Jacked Ranch-Dipped Hot Wings Doritos (“Well, I was there anyway, getting gas, so ... .”).

And then a few years ago the convenience store near my home began offering house-made burritos. I noticed because the line that formed each weekday outside the store was, one Tuesday, blocking my path to the gas pump. While I wasn’t looking, the quickie-mart warming oven full of wrinkled hot dogs and foil-wrapped “hamburgers” had morphed into a full-on kitchen that produced, one of the people in the burrito line told me, some of the best machaca in all of Maricopa County.

I added this to my list of Things to Worry About Later, where it remained until last week, when I received a press release announcing that QuikTrip Corporate Chef Ryan Boone planned to unveil a new side dish.

click to enlarge Well, is QuikTrip’s new mac and cheese was a snack, or a meal, or a snackle? - ROBRT PELA
Well, is QuikTrip’s new mac and cheese was a snack, or a meal, or a snackle?
Robrt Pela
I knew QuikTrip; there was one in my neighborhood. And I suppose I could have guessed that they, an $11 billion company with more than 850 convenience markets in 11 states, had probably jumped on the faux restaurateur bandwagon.

But did I know that I lived in a world where gas stations employed corporate chefs? I did not. And now that sweet ignorance had been taken from me.

“We are so excited to introduce our delicious new mac and cheese to our customers and hope they enjoy our unique twist on this classic comfort food,” the press release exclaimed.

There was more: “QT Mac and Cheese provides versatility for customers who are seeking a snack or meal,” the press release promised, “proving to be one of the tastiest snackles.” This was a phrase that led to me drinking rather a lot of scotch after I read it.

The next day, I telephoned QuikTrip’s Aisha Jefferson-Smith, the author of the press release, and asked when convenience stores had become restaurants.

“Fairly recently,” she explained as I eyed a bottle of Glenlivet sitting on a shelf across the room. “People want to get gas and do their banking and pick up a meal for the whole family, all in one place.”

I confided how the fact that convenience stores have corporate chefs who “launch menus” was deeply troubling to me.

“Well, our chef makes it possible for you to go beyond a grab-and-go bag of chips,” Jefferson-Smith replied. “That’s why we came up with the word ‘snackle,’ which means our food can be a meal or a snack!”

I lunged for the bottle of scotch.

This new mac and cheese was special, Jefferson-Smith promised me. “We tried over a hundred recipes before we decided on this perfect one. It’s creamy and crunchy and it’s that classic, orange-colored elbow macaroni.”

I couldn’t help myself. I had to ask whether QuikTrip’s new mac and cheese was a snack, or a meal, or a snackle.

“There you go,” she replied. “Now you’re getting the picture.”

I didn’t want the picture. All at once, I wanted some ice cubes and a twist of lime.
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela