By Kevin Williams
Wow, has it really been three years since I have written about Sheetz?
Looked in the Amish365.com archives and, sure,enough, that is the last reference I can find. Woohoo, that means I can talk about it again (I try not to recycle topics too, too frequently).
I used to spend an inordinate amount of time on the road and to break the boredom I'd often stop at a convenience store to grab a newspaper or a soda or a sandwich and all of those years doing that has me intimately familiar with which places I like and don't.
SHEETZ: Man, Sheetz is the best of the best. Nothing brightens up a drab drive or a dark night more than spying the garish, gaudy, bright Sheetz stores in all its incandescent glory. The best thing about Sheetz is their food. When I am in Sheetz country, I'll actually plan my meal stops around them. You can walk up to a bank of touch-screen kiosks and custom-order sandwiches (called their Made-to-Order concept), pizza, breakfast, and a host of other goodies. The team behind the cafe counter then cooks up your order as you wait and you're good to go. Awesome. Desserts are far above typical gas station grade and, well, yeah, good stuff. SIGH, the closest Sheetz to me is about 3 hours away, I so wish they'd make a march westward.
QT: QuikTrip Markets are the Midwest counterweight to the East Coast Sheetz. You'll find QT's clustered in places like St. Louis or Wichita, Kansas. These stores are brightly link and have a whole wall of frozen treats like self-serve, soft-serve ice cream, frozen slushies, and the like.
GOASIS: Okay, I debated whether to include "truck stops" in this post (Pilot, Travel Centers of America, and others, but that is another post for another day) GoOasis is actually owned by Travel Centers of America and they are awesome. I'd say more about them, but it's hard to find where their locations are, it's like they are hidden mirages on the interstate. But when you find them, you get it all: cheap gas, good food, candy, soda fountain drinks. I think there is a GoOasis in Georgia somewhere also, anyone know of any others? The one I go to is near Ashland right along I-71.
THORTON'S: This is a Midwestern USA chain that, to me, does not rise quite to the level of a Sheetz or QT, but they are pretty darn nice with the same type of custom-made food from kiosks. Here is a Thorton's menu.
CASEY'S GENERAL STORE: These locations lack of the panache and flair of a Sheetz or QT, some locations are kind of dumpy, but they are beacons of midwestern sensibility. I sort of know that I'm in the nation's breadbasket when I start seeing the welcoming Casey's signs.
KUM N GO: This oddly named store chain operates over 400 locations in 11 states and is always a favorite of mine when I am in their area. Check out some of their food here.
RACETRAC: I know I am in the warm, welcoming arms of the Sunshine States when I see these convenience stores. Ahhh, you can get frozen yogurt here.
SIGH, so many places could have made my list. I'm not a huge fan of 7-11, but they'll do in a pinch. WaWa has a cult following but I've only been in one of their stores once so I can't really made a judgment. Speedway is a chain the Midwest USA and while they are comfortingly familiar, too many of their stores are small and dumpy. Family Express is a pretty darn good chain, but they are small, only in NW Indiana. So, is there a chain that I've not mentioned that should make the list? Bright colors, good food selection, clean restrooms, those all factor into the mix when I rate these places.
Canada, by the way, sets the standard for gas station convenience stores. I like them all there (although I am partial to Hasty Market). It's just more fun to stop at a Canadian convenience store because everything is different than in the USA: the money is different, you're there to buy petrol instead of gas, everything is bilingual. And if you get really lucky you might find a Tim Horton's tucked away in a gas station!