By Sara Counihan
ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Al Hebert knows food—gas station food, that is. Self-dubbed the Gas Station Gourmet, Hebert finds the best and unique foods in convenience stores around the U.S. On how he got started writing about food in gas stations, Herbert admits on that it was “complete accident.”
Hebert’s day job is a health-care writer and reporter, plus an independent producer doing medical projects for television. His producer jobs left him traveling through Texas often, and he and his photographer happened to stop into a c-store, and “it smelled like your grandmother’s kitchen on a Sunday afternoon,” Herbert said on this week’s Convenience Matters podcast episode.
“I told my photog, ‘you know, if there’s two or three more places like this in America, we’ll shoot a package and we’re gonna get free lunch,’” said Hebert. And the pair came up with the name Gas Station Gourmet on the spot.
Hebert started his Gas Station Gourmet persona on Twitter in 2011, which is where NACS found him, and the association has worked with him ever since. Hebert writes the Gas Station Gourmet column for NACS Magazine.
“Many of the people I run in into end up being in the NACS column. I’m really lucky because NACS gives me a good reason to talk to these people, to eat their food. … It seems like every month I have a love affair with a new c-store,” said Hebert.
Those in the c-store industry have heard and bemoaned the stigma of “gas station food,” but Hebert is helping to change this perception. He told the story of visiting a c-store in a tiny Texas town, where he found a buffet prepared by a classically trained chef whose dad happened to own the store. Hebert has also found $450 Cristal Champagne at an Exxon station and wrote a story about it.
“I try to tell people, you gotta make the trip from the pumps to the door because that’s where the magic is. And you gotta go inside,” said Hebert, who headlined an education session at the 2021 NACS Show in Chicago.
So many of the small convenience stores are community stores, and they give back to their community and have more than just an appreciation for their customers.
“What I love [is] the relationship that these small individually owned stores have with their customers … It’s sort of a throwback because we’re in a digital age, we communicate on devices, we’re not as personal as we used to be,” said Hebert.
Hebert overall has no plans to stop his journey to find the best food in America’s gas stations anytime soon.
“You know, I am so happy to be doing the Gas Station Gourmet,” said Hebert. “My life all blends together, and it all kind of meets in America’s c-stores.”
Listen to more from Hebert in this week’s Convenience Matters podcast episode No. 323 “Great Food Finds at Gas Stations,” and read his column in each issue of NACS Magazine.
Sara Counihan is contributing editor of NACS Daily and NACS Magazine. Contact her at [email protected].