Hot, Fresh and Homemade

Affordable, fresh-made comfort food is at the heart of this Louisiana c-store.

Hot, Fresh and Homemade

July 2024   minute read

By: Al Hebert

In South Louisiana, everyone cooks—and cooks well. But almost no one cooks better than Grandma.

So if you’re going to have a food program in your c-store, it better be as good as grandma’s, if not better.

That’s the mark that Chef Charles Hulin and his partners—brothers Shane and Kerry Broussard, as well as Julie, Hulin’s sister and Shane’s wife—meet at the Village Station each day.

Hulin worked in restaurants and then in food sales. “My experience in the kitchen helped me coach customers on what to do with food,” he explained. He’s brought that knowledge and expertise to the three Village Station locations, which are in Maurice (home to the first store, which the group opened eight years ago), Scott and Duson, Louisiana. The stores draw in customers with their down-home breakfasts, comfort-food plate lunches and local specialty menu item—boudin balls.

Boasting a Big Breakfast

Breakfast is one of the retailer’s most popular meal times, with about half of its food business happening during the morning. It offers classic breakfast items, including sandwiches on biscuits or croissants; sausage, bacon and ham; and breakfast burritos. “It’s nothing special, but it’s all made fresh and is [quick].”

The store gets a lot of big breakfast orders too. “We got a call last week and made 150 breakfast burritos in one location. Next week we’re doing a buffet for a school,” said Hulin.

There’s no rigid adherence to a set menu at Village Station. “Whatever the customer wants, we‘re going to make it. We do both breakfast and lunch all day long,” said Hulin. The store is also known for its plate lunches, which start at 10:30 a.m. “When they’re gone, they’re gone.”

Village Station’s $8.99 plate lunch is one of the ways Hulin gets customers in the door. When most places charge $10 or more for a midday meal, the comfort food plates—usually consisting of an entree like meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy and a side—at an affordable price is a big draw. “We’ll sometimes do 200 plates per store. We have numbers that small restaurants do,” said Hulin.

Chef Charles Hulin manages foodservice for three Village Station locations.

“In a c-store, you have multiple areas where you can make money. Your food costs don’t have to be so high because you make more in other areas. That’s how you offer deals to get people in,” Hulin explained.

Making everything fresh in-house also keeps food costs low, he added. “A lot of c-stores buy premade food and therefore have to charge more. But we can offer better deals because we make everything in-house. Fresh-made food is our biggest thing.”

The menus at Village Station are always changing, and the store keeps customers in the loop with a monthly menu calendar and sends out texts to customers who subscribe.

“Our fish and shrimp specials on Fridays always bring customers in. The other days we might offer something else, like plates with a meat, starch and a vegetable.”

Unique Twists on Classic Fares

Most c-stores in this part of Louisiana carry boudin—an item similar to sausage made from pork boiled down with “the trinity,” as Hulin calls it: celery, peppers and onions. “It has a little bit of liver, plus rice and stock. It differs from rice dressing in that dressing is made with browned meat, and it’s not sausage even though it’s in a casing. It’s uniquely Cajun.”

Village Station sells its own spin on boudin—the boudin ball. After someone got the wise idea to take the boudin out of the casing, shape it into a ball, then batter and fry it, the boudin ball was born and has become a “wildly popular” staple for the c-store.

“These spheres are packed with flavor and are convenient to eat. Boudin has great taste, is very filling and you can eat two boudin balls and it’s meal,” Hulin said. He said they sell about 250 to 300 pounds of boudin per day across the three locations.

“Boudin is a crowded market—everyone has a different taste factor. Our differentiator is boudin balls. You have to have the right breading, and we have a flakey flour breading that’s softer but has the right crunch.”

Village Station also capitalizes on another big c-store hit—chicken tenders. The company sells about 100 pounds per store each day, which “is a lot for a c-store,” said Hulin.

“Our tenders are a hand-breaded tender that we marinate for 24 hours. They’re dipped in a wet batter and then it goes into a formulated dry batter mix. We add seasoning to make the breading pop.”

With three stores, it’s important to make sure the customer experience is the same in each store and that there is consistency across locations, Hulin said.

“Last year, knowing we’d open a third store, we had to think about ensuring consistent flavor,” he said. “We opened a central kitchen that could cook and deliver food to all of the locations. We do plate lunches, egg rolls, vegetables and sides, and all our major stocks and bases are made in that location.”

Running a food business is all about routine and consistency, he said. “We are creatures of habit. I use the same roads every day and visit the same places. When I ask people what their favorite place to eat is, they often say one that’s based on habit. I want the Village Station to be the customers’ new habit. In a new store, you’re breaking people’s habits to get them to come in. So don’t give them a reason to want to go somewhere else.”

Nurturing Employee Growth

Retailers are all too familiar with staffing challenges, especially after the pandemic. Hulin said the Village Station uses social media to recruit staff. “Once we get them in, we work to retain them. We have a good growth incentive. We make sure they have a healthy work environment,” said Hulin.

He checks in with his employees every day to see how they’re doing and what their concerns are.

“Appreciation is important. We’re part counselors. We’re someone they can turn to if they have an issue. It’s a work family, and we really care about [our employees] instead of just saying ‘you work for us and that’s it.’ We get invited to their weddings or their kid’s events and that’s nice,” he said.

It’s important for employees to know they can move up at the Village Station and that there is a chance for advancement. “We try to promote from within. I want people moving up. Self-worth is a big thing for me and employees should feel important at work—it’s an incentive to stay. That is the main goal of what we are about. We’re strong on our employee growth.”

Al Hebert

Al Hebert

Al Hebert is the Gas Station Gourmet, showcasing America’s hidden culinary treasures. Find him at

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