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    Sheetz Hits the Road for Foodservice Inspiration

    Team recently traveled to Denver to do a “fast casual dine-around.”

    By Renee M. Covino, Convenience Store News

    ALTOONA, Pa. — You don’t get to be a leading convenience store foodservice performer by standing still. With fresh offerings and customizable menu options, Sheetz Inc. is one c-store operator that knows how to move forward in food. And its foodservice team is literally moving — actually traveling together on a regular basis — in a continuous effort to stay current.

    Part of Sheetz’ strategy is to keep abreast of the competition, particularly in the fast-casual restaurant sector, as a means to stay ahead of the more directly competitive quick-service restaurant (QSR) market.

    Sheetz does this, in part, through annual visits to chosen “foodie” cities where company executives immerse themselves in the local culinary flair in what they call a fast-casual “dine-around.” Most recently, the Sheetz leadership and foodservice team, led by Executive Chef and Director of Culinary Dan Coffin, visited the city of Denver.

    “We’re passionate about keeping an eye on fast-casuals, and Denver is the birthplace of a lot of great fast-casuals,” Coffin told Convenience Store News. “It’s also a top city for millennials to move to. There’s a lot going on, not just in the food itself, but in the total experience of fast food or the ‘limited service’ world. There’s a lot of aspirational brands doing some neat stuff and if we’re keeping an eye on them, it puts us in a position where we feel we are ahead of the QSR market.”

    Upon arrival in Denver, the Sheetz team, which Coffin described as a cross-functional group of the company’s leadership and foodservice executives, split up into four groups of six to “tour” peripheral concepts. All together, they observed 20 different fast-casual restaurants in the market.

    “It was important that we not just look at the food, but look at the entire experience,” Coffin emphasized. “How do you feel when you walk through the door? What’s the flow like? How is the staff engaging you? What’s the décor? What’s the food offering? How knowledgeable is the staff about the food offering? Everything that goes into a fast-casual food experience, that’s what we’re looking at [during our dine-arounds].”

    During Team Sheetz’ recent trip to the Mile High City, there were several fast-casuals that resonated with Coffin and the Sheetz team. Among them:

    • Modmarket — “They’re taking Panera to the next level,” Coffin stated.
    • Etai’s Bakery Café — Coffin describes this as a gluten-free bread company with a very relevant café business. “They take some very relevant dietary issues and inject vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc., into it. But they don’t make it feel like a menu just for that; they make it feel like a regular menu, simply highlighting what fits with which dietary needs. It’s an important piece of their business.”
    • Live Basil Pizza — “Fast-casual pizza is growing so much and this local pizzeria concept with truly artisan products is proof of that,” according to Coffin.
    • Snooz — This breakfast concept is another millennial magnet. “We really love what they do. They are so creative; everything is a twist of comfort and traditional, but really well-executed with really good flavors,” Coffin described. “And the staff is incredible; very knowledgeable and engaging. They’ll stop and have a conversation and make you feel comfortable; they are not rushing you. Hospitality is definitely a cornerstone of what they do.”

    As Sheetz’ executive chef for the past five years, Coffin has immersed his team in the fast-casual success of other cities, namely New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Raleigh, N.C. Up next, he’s considering Los Angles, San Francisco, Toronto and Miami.

    For more on Sheetz’ dine-around strategy, look in the Convenience Store News Guide to Foodservice, coming out later this month.

    By Renee M. Covino, Convenience Store News
    • About Renee M. Covino Contributing Editor Renée M. Covino is a veteran researcher, editor and writer with more than 30 years of experience in the mass retail sector. Her articles and columns have appeared online and in print for dozens of industry trade magazines, newsletters, metro newspapers, Fortune 500 company reports and college textbooks. Covino is a self-named “store connoisseur” who not only writes about retail, but happily supports it.

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