Looking Back for Future Ideas

The ‘Gas Station Gourmet’ looks at the best foodservice ideas he’s encountered in the past year.

February 12, 2024

(This article first appeared in the February issue of NACS Magazine.)

I thought this was the perfect time to look back at 2023. Were there ideas in last year’s Gas Station Gourmet that you could implement in your store in 2024? Let’s look back.

Building a Great Team

In February, this column profiled The Old Koke Plant in Brookhaven, Mississippi. It’s no surprise that hiring the right cooks is key to great food. Passion is crucial.

Cathy Pigott, retail operations manager, has a simple strategy.

“I had them tell me about cooking,” she said. “Do you like to cook? We hired no one who liked to cook—we hired the ones who loved to cook. The interviews were personal. We wanted to know where they learned to cook. How did they learn to cook? What made them love to cook? The ones who love it have a history.”

Cooks are creative, and they all have different styles. Pigott gives them the freedom to do what they love.

“This is a challenging environment to retain workers, especially cooks,” Pigott said. “The Old Koke Plant has experienced almost no turnover.”

Once you hire staff, how do you keep them? Pigott said, “It’s a lot about hugs.”

For the July issue, I talked with Chase Wilmoth of Ozarks Travel Center in Mount Vernon, Missouri, and learned he focuses on the person and not the job history.

“In my mind, it’s people skills, not past experience. If you can talk to people, be friendly and carry on a conversation, it’s better than experience. We can train people to be good employees,” he said.

“We don’t want to be the place where people are working and they’re looking for a job that pays better, we want to be the place that pays better,” he added.

Creating Signature Food

A customer’s passion for your menu items often comes from painstaking attention to detail. For the March issue, I had a chance to talk to Chef Robert Scott at America’s Street Food in Little Rock, Arkansas. His thoroughness is key to bringing customers back again and again.

“Customers like our sandwiches,” Scott said. “The burger we use is fresh-ground rib-eye. We make our own corned beef and Thousand Island dressing for the Reuben. We smoke our pulled pork for 14 hours.”

He added, “I had a guy come in from North Carolina. He was a doctor, and someone told him to come check us out. He said it was the best Reuben he’s ever had.”

Customers can tell the difference.

In the April issue, Alan Shepherd at the Rocket Market in Spokane, Washington, shared a few things that set his store apart. He said his foodservice is all about “cool or interesting food.” Again, this is about taking those extra steps that will take your menu items to the next level.

To continue reading ideas you could implement in your store, check out the latest issue of NACS Magazine.