Convenience store chefs face the formidable challenge of creating high-quality, fresh food that appeals to a wide range of customer demographics, all inside a tiny footprint with limited equipment. CStore Decisions caught up with Kyle Lore, the corporate chef for Salt Lake City-based Maverik Convenience Stores, which operates more than 300 stores in 11 states, to find out how he got started in the c-store industry and the best practices he’s learned along the way.
CStore Decisions (CSD): How long have you been the corporate chef at Maverik? What first attracted you to the position, and what do you like best about creating food for a c-store platform?
Kyle Lore (KL): I have been with Maverik for five-and-a-half years. For chefs like myself, with long careers in many of the traditional channels, the opportunity to broadly change the way people eat and the balance of life are the primary drivers for choosing to work in convenience.
Working in fine dining, even in a very successful restaurant, one may influence a few thousand people a month with the quality, sourcing and preparation of the ingredients. Here, we can focus on improving some simple ingredients, and we affect the diet and perception of c-store food for hundreds of thousands of people at a time. Good food just tastes better, and it should be accessible to everyone.
I really enjoy creating a wholesome, simple recipe with good ingredients that cause positive reactions and advocacy with our customers when they respond by really loving the food and supporting the brand.
CSD: What are the biggest challenges when cooking/preparing food in a convenience store?
KL: The challenges of executing in the convenience store environment are mostly the same as everyone is experiencing in broader foodservice today with labor, technology, food safety, energy costs, supply chain, etc. I think the biggest challenge that is unique to us is overcoming the customers’ perception that convenience stores do not have good food. That is just wrong!
CSD: What are some of the items you need to be able to cook/prepare at Maverik, and what kind of c-store equipment have you turned to for help in creating these products?
KL: We have several identity items that we are known for. Our baked goods, burritos and tacos, bundles (pastry-wrapped savory entrees that are handheld) and nugget ice in our fountains all have a following. We are also known for being spicy with robust condiment bars and bold flavors.
Having a small footprint in comparison to traditional foodservice or retail, we must have equipment that accomplishes multiple jobs in a small space. Traditional gas-fueled restaurant equipment is too large and inefficient for our purposes. We use a combination of impingement ovens, convection ovens, induction technologies and a lot of field research and development to serve our customers in a time frame that is shorter than most quick-service restaurants. We are constantly working to improve our systems, procedures and technology to make that job easier on the store staff tasked with exceeding our customers’ expectations.
CSD: What are some attributes you look for in c-store foodservice equipment?
KL: Reliability, ease of operation, performance, return on investment, ongoing product support, to name a few off the top of my head. When we look at a new piece of equipment, we really try to put it through its paces. We want to see it function in the real-world environment it will experience daily. When equipment goes down in the stores, it is a huge obstacle for our employees accomplishing their goals and disrupts the customer’s experience.
CSD: What do you wish you had known when you were first getting started in c-store foodservice?
KL: I wish that I had a better understanding of the importance of testing. Anything new or changing; any product, equipment, procedure; any change we are going to make to the daily routine of our foodservice operations needs to be thoroughly tested and developed with support from the stores to be sure it will be successful. The diversity of the voices we listen to is in direct proportion to the success of a project.
CSD: What else would you like us to know?
KL: I love working with Maverik. We have a great culture, and we get to live and play in some of the most dramatic, beautiful landscapes of the American West. Long before I worked at Maverik, I was a chef at a very upscale guest ranch resort. I used to look forward to a break from the kitchen — with all types of gourmet food — so I could drive into town, sit in the sun at the picnic table at the local Maverik and have a Bahama Mama with spicy brown mustard and sauerkraut on a great potato bun — really simple but really good.
Kyle Lore, the corporate chef for Maverik, has been working in research and development within convenience and grocery retail in the Mountain West for 15-plus years. Prior, he spent many years as a fine dining executive chef and food and beverage director in destination resort hotels and free-standing restaurants.