Innovating Together

From crawfish to a t-shirt press, this year’s NACS Ideas 2 Go program has something for everyone.

Innovating Together

November 2023   minute read

By: Chrissy Blasinsky


With locations in Fenton, Missouri, and Pontiac, Illinois, Wally’s pitches itself as the Home of the Great American Road Trip. What’s driving this concept, from the branding, store layout and design to the foodservice, clean bathrooms and own-brand merchandise, is early childhood memories of family road trips along Route 66.

Cousins Michael Rubenstein, president and CEO of Wally’s, and Chad Wallis, chairman of the board, fully embrace the notion that first impressions count, especially when customers walk into either of the Wally’s locations for the first time.

“We want that first impression to be a smile on their face and know that they’re entering a space that’s comfortable, exciting and a new experience, and we hope that experience is something the guest hasn’t experienced before,” said Wallis.

The Fenton store is about 36,000 square feet with more than 72 fueling positions and electric vehicle charging stations. Store design captures the feel of an ’80s family road trip, along with mid-century vibes.

Growing up together, Rubenstein and Wallis have fun road trip memories and see Wally’s as a destination for current and future road warriors. “We’re hoping to bring that opportunity to other people who get to go on a road trip, and hopefully this is a memory that they get to take home with them,” said Wallis.


FavTrip has three locations, with stores in Kansas City, Grandview and Independence, Missouri.

CEO Babir Sultan fully embraces the power of social media, including posting videos of customers getting caught red-handed shoplifting. “We’re not afraid to download security footage and make fun of somebody,” he said. Those videos are posted to FavTrip’s YouTube channel. As of September, FavTrip had more than 84,000 YouTube subscribers.

“We started putting up video with no content, just background music. And then one of our videos hit 4 million views. There were people in the comments section saying they’re from Mexico, from Detroit, you need to open a store here, and then a local customer would say, ‘I’ve lived in Independence, Missouri, all my life and I didn’t know you existed!’ So we started doing more and being consistent,” Sultan explained.


Earlier this year Sheetz opened its Innovation Hub, also known as the Sheetz Pittsburgh Office, in a historical business complex called Bakery Square in downtown Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh Office is attractive to college graduates from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. The staff of about 70 has a central focus on innovation and testing new ideas for the company. Their goal is this: Find ideas that will put the current version of Sheetz out of business over the next five years.

“The expansion of our office space at Bakery Square will allow us to further develop, test and implement transformative products and services that will help Sheetz meet and surpass customer demand for the ultimate one-stop shop,” said Emily Sheetz, vice president of strategy and IT.

Y-Not Stop

Since 1987, south Louisiana locals have come to know and rely on Y-Not Stop convenience stores, operated by St. Romain Oil Company. Annie Gauthier, co-owner and CFO, envisions Y-Not stores as the Chick-fil-A of convenience stores or the Buc-ee’s of Louisiana—but on a much smaller scale.

“When customers walk into a Y-Not Stop, we want them to feel like it’s open and inviting. We want people to plan their trips around where there is a Y-Not Stop,” she said.

Being in south Louisiana, where plate lunches from gas stations rival—and beat—five-star restaurants, Gauthier said her teams learned a long time ago with food that “we can’t be all things to all people and we can’t execute on all things well.” The retailer pared down its menu to select offers at Y-Not Stops and focuses on the items that move.

“We try to keep things fresh by having limited time offers, but we also try to be focused on not bringing in too many new ingredients and overcomplicating processes. A lot of our limited time offers are around our cookie program, because it’s not a big training lift,” she said.

Cajun Country Food Finds In Louisiana, the local gas stations are the best places to eat. From shrimp po’boys to homemade boudin to fried catfish to boiled crawfish and plate lunches for under $8, the four stores NACS visited in south Louisiana prove that gas stations are supreme when it comes to authentic, and delicious, Cajun fare.

Yabbos Drive-Thru

You might remember reading about Yabbos in our July 2022 issue. We got to see the team in action as they took care of customers, and we enjoyed some very large crawfish.

“We have a little bit of everything here. At our soul, we’re a convenience store,” said Adam Brewer, general manager of Yabbos. “We serve plate lunches Monday through Friday, we have burgers, wraps, we boil crawfish … our customers love it,” he said. And there’s the chocolate chip cookie, which team member Kaylee Mouret said is not only popular, but is the size of her face.

Brewer explained that a unique feature of the convenience store is that customers literally drive through the store and don’t have to leave their vehicle. “We want people to say, ‘Wow!’ But not only wow, but ‘I had a really great experience and really good service driving through.’ Ultimately it’s all about the customer experience here,” he said.

Yabbos also has a strong social media presence and posts pictures of its plate lunches and drink specials daily on Facebook and Instagram.

Bourbon Street Deli

We’ve written about Bourbon Street Deli a few times in NACS Magazine, most recently in the May issue, where Angelle Cloud, director of foodservice compliance and corporate dietitian, shared how the company helped its community get back on its feet after Hurricane Laura in 2020.

We visited Cloud at a Bourbon Street Deli location on Abbeville, where the shrimp po’boys and crawfish Acadiana loaded fries are local favorites.

When it comes to great food, the key to Bourbon Street’s success is consistency. “We make sure all our people are trained the same way. They have the same ingredients and the same instructions,” she said, noting that customers appreciate the local flare.

“Our seafood comes from Louisiana sources. They are local products and are shipped directly to us, and then we use those ingredients from scratch to create really great products,” said Cloud.

With such an extensive menu of fresh ingredients and raw protein, including seafood, Cloud emphasized the importance of food safety: “Nobody deserves more care and more attention than the health of our customers. We want to make sure that our customers don’t have to worry when they come to us and they feel comfortable.”


Joshua Venable, the owner and operator at Vautrot’s, has been running the store his godfather opened more than 50 years ago for the last 15 years. Aside from offering delicious made-from-scratch food, it’s also a meat market, deli, gas station and convenience store.

“It’s hard to describe,” he said. “You’re talking about a little store that employs almost 30 people. It’s a lot of moving parts. It’s an experience.”

What makes the food at Vautrot’s unique comes directly from the kitchen and the kitchen manager, Janie Monroe. “She’s the best cook in 100-mile radius. People come for her cooking every day,” said Venable. “People come from all over just to get her plate lunches, burgers, po’boys, salads—you name it.”

Corner Grocery

Located in the small town of Loreauville, population around 700, Corner Grocery serves its community by being a bit of everything: convenience store, grocery store, general store, restaurant, gas station and hot spot for Sunday barbeque.

“When you have a small community that can’t support a whole restaurant, you still need places to eat. So we’re happy to serve in that role,” said Mandi Pooler, co-owner of Corner Grocery.

Like many gas stations and convenience stores in Louisiana, plate lunches are a daily attraction.

“Our plate lunches are definitely a hit. When we decide what we’re cooking, we post it on Facebook because we know people are looking to see what we have. And then at 10:30 a.m. when our plate lunch is ready, we post a picture—and if we forget to do that, people let us know,” said Pooler, adding, “and our Sunday barbecue usually sells out every week.”

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