A proscenium frames a stone pizza oven, open kitchen and barista-manned coffee bar. Cherry-oak tile leads to an “Order Fresh Food Here” pillar with flat-screens displaying photos of pastrami sandwiches, cheeseburgers topped with fried eggs and breakfast burritos, available to order at self-serve kiosks. This isn’t some high-tech food court or trendy fast casual; it’s a convenience store.
Sheetz developed the concept—a foot traffic-reliant c-store without gas pumps on the campus of West Virginia University—as a laboratory to hone the company’s future as a food-first cafe.
With channel-blurring forcing a tighter bond between convenience goods and foodservice, the new Sheetz could be an incarnation of things to come, and stiffer competition for restaurants. Among its millennial-friendly features:
1. Food first
When customers step into the main vestibule, they see a restaurant instead of a c-store. Made-to-order items are prepared in an amphitheater-like setting, creating transparency, so customers can watch their custom pizzas and coffee drinks come to life.
2. Flexible seating
On the flip side of grab-and-go, more c-stores are emulating restaurant-style seating. At Sheetz, indoor and outdoor seating encourages lingering. There are matching tables that can be pushed together, booths for six or eight and a high bar of 12 counter-height seats, where solo diners can wait for their orders.
3. Tech ready
The seating area has multiple outlets and USB ports for students who want to plug in while eating
4. Self-serve checkout
“Pay here” signs and impulse aisles define a path to checkout areas, but within that queue are two self-service payment kiosks. Sheetz officials hope to measure the concept’s potential when lines build during peak hours.
5. Major marketing
Sheetz used social media, campus newspaper ads and both digital and static signage to get the word out to students in advance of the store’s opening, according to Tamara Dunkley, corporate advertising manager for the c-store operator.
A version of this article, written by Angel Abcede, ran in the July issue of CSP magazine, Restaurant Business’ sister publication.