By Sara Counihan
ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Stafford Shurden eats really good food at gas stations. The farmer, restaurant owner and creator and co-host of a video series called Gas Station Tailgate Review documents his travels throughout the South as he tries delicious and authentic food at local gas stations and c-stores.
“I think the beauty of it is people don’t expect it, and especially the small towns. The people from there love to see their hometown on Facebook or YouTube or wherever I put it,” said Shurden on this week’s NACS Convenience Matters podcast episode.
Shurden says the trick to finding these amazing food spots is simply word of mouth through social media.
“All of these people are in this community of people who love gas station food, and they’re like ‘If you like that burger, you need to try this place,’” he said. “And so, 90% of the reviews I do today are from word of mouth through social media.”
Shurden talks about how a recent trip to a Valero station prompted Shurden to say on social media how the visit to this particular gas station made him question everything he knows about food. He said the gas station used fresh, local, raw ingredients prepared by a real chef.
“Most of what you see is the plate lunches, the fried chicken … and then you get in this place and it’s like something that should be on the cover of a magazine. This guy layers his flavors,” he said.
Shurden explains that a lot of gas stations in the South will do all their cooking in the morning, and then they have an empty kitchen the rest of the day. The owner of the Valero station decided to let a chef into the empty kitchen and “do his thing,” said Shurden.
“You go in any five-star restaurant, the equipment’s basically the same stuff. The only difference is ingredients and talent,” he said. “There’s nothing stopping some of these c-stores from doing something very similar to that.”
Shurden says he is honest about his reviews, and he goes with his gut reaction when he talks about what he’s eating.
“I don’t even think about it. I just eat it and whatever comes out of my mouth comes out of my mouth, he said. “There’s no editor. It’s just me. So, what you see is what you get.”
Tune into this week’s Convenience Matters podcast episode No. 351 “Small Towns With Big Food Finds,” to find out what Shurden thinks of the Vietnamese food scene at gas stations, the beauty of an iconic old country store and how Eli and/or Peyton Manning just might appear on his video series.
Sara Counihan is contributing editor of NACS Magazine and NACS Daily. She can be reached at [email protected].