There is a deserved stigma associated with gas station food. It’s seen as cheap, low quality, and gross. TV shows and movies have even used “gas station sushi” as a common way to induce vomiting in characters. While the expectation for most gas station food is low, Sheetz, a gas station and convenience store chain that spans from the east coast to the Midwest, has managed to defy the norm and create a brand that’s known for producing food of surprising quality. Despite its source, the food is at least on par with most fast food chains, if not significantly better. Their high food standards combined with a fun ordering method and superior branding have made them into a cultural phenomenon as well.
Sheetz’s biggest attraction is their Made to Order or M.T.O. option. Customers who are hungry for more than just a bag of chips and bottled drink can walk up to a self-ordering kiosk that allows them to customize anything from the vast Sheetz menu. Upon paying at the machine the customer receives a number and the order dispatches to the kitchen. At this point, the food is “made to order” just as the promotion suggests, and the customer can pick it up when their number is called out. While this doesn’t sound very different from a restaurant like Subway, the use of the kiosk and unique menu offerings set Sheetz apart. Sheetz makes a sandwich that is just as customizable as Subway’s, —the only difference is the customer doesn’t have to detail their order to an employee. There’s no crowd to shout over, no pressure to order quickly, and no chance for the sandwich maker to put the wrong vegetable or dressing on your sandwich. In addition, you can’t get mac and cheese bites or milkshakes at Subways or most fast food places for that matter. Sheetz provides the convenience of high-quality fast food, while implementing innovative customization technology, making for a fantastic customer experience.
Their demonstrated commitment to an innovative customer experience has made Sheetz a model organization in the regions it occupies. Every great business, however, has a competitor. For Sheetz, it is Wawa, a similar gas station/convenience store chain that offers “Built to Order” food that’s customized through touch–screen kiosks. Due to their similar business models and overlapping regions of occupation, the companies are frequently compared to each other, especially among Pennsylvania college students. Western Pennsylvania residents and students at schools like The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon tend to stand strong with team Sheetz while those living in the Eastern part of the state or attend college in Philadelphia prefer Wawa. All it takes is one Twitter or Google search of “Sheetz vs. Wawa” to see that intense arguments about the topic occur frequently. The debate has grown so strong that a Kickstarter campaign was created to fund a documentary about the rivalry. While there is no conclusive answer as to which chain is better, these two businesses do prove that their ability to use technology to their advantage has yielded them successful results.