Would you like a California roll with that oil change?
While it's an unlikely culinary revolution, Slim Jims are making way for sushi as gas station convenience stores transform themselves with upscale eats and shed their image as junk food pit stops.
It's an attempt by the industry to discourage the gas-up-and-go mentality and bolster the bottom line with artisanal cheeses, freshly baked breads and high-end meals that entice consumers to linger and eat — and to do it often.
"We're trying to make these stores destinations rather than convenience stops," said Stuart Lowry, marketing director for The Markets of Tiger Fuel, a Virginia convenience chain that offers fresh seafood, a fancy deli and professional chefs.
"If you choose to just get in and get gas you can," Lowry said. "But if you want to sit down and have a gourmet meal, you can do that, too."
The change comes at a crucial time for the nation's 138,000 convenience stores, most of which historically have relied on gasoline and cigarettes for more than three-quarters of their sales.
As the profit margins on those products shrink, the $395 billion industry is facing new competition from grocers adding fuel pumps and drug stores that offer more food than pharmaceuticals. Until recently, the industry has focused mostly on one type of customer, what National Association of Convenience Stores spokesman Jeff Lenard calls the Bubba — a blue collar man who smokes.