Cover Image: Mt. Top Convenience owners Doug Smith, Tammy Markwood and Mike Markwood show off the warm, fresh pepperoni rolls that await customers every day.
Every state has a first. The first airplane flew in North Carolina. No surprise that sunscreen was first developed in Florida. West Virginia is the birthplace of the pepperoni roll. Nearly 100 years after their creation, pepperoni rolls can be found at Mt. Top Convenience in Thomas.
Pepperoni rolls were first baked in 1927 as a convenient lunch option for coal miners. Today, they’re still found in the lunch boxes of workers and students.
“The pepperoni roll is bread dough flattened with pepperoni and cheese, rolled up and baked. It comes out about the size of a hot dog bun,” owner Tammy Markwood explained, adding, “We do nine different kinds. Traditional as well as ones with jalapeños, banana peppers and some with bacon.”
Markwood and her husband, Mike, along with Doug Smith, bought the store in 2003. They’ve worked hard to make it a food destination, both for local residents and the many skiers and vacationers who descend on the area.
Visitors to the Mountain State seek out the c-store’s pepperoni rolls.
“That’s what we’re known for,” said Markwood. The tiny city of Thomas is about 15 miles from the Maryland state line. When tourists stop at the visitor center, they ask about pepperoni rolls, and they’re directed to Mt. Top.
The convenience store sells 65,000 pepperoni rolls a year in a city of about 525 people. The store received quite a bit of attention in 2021. “We placed 1st runner-up for the ‘Best Pepperoni Rolls’ in West Virginia Living Magazine’s Best of West Virginia” annual reader survey, Markwood said, adding, “People come in and ask if they’re in the right place with the great pepperoni rolls.”
There are few things better than having a menu item that draws customers to a store. Markwood talked about customer passion. “There’s a guy who drives an hour and a half to buy 18 of them. One lady buys two dozen every three weeks and mails them to her son.”
Pepperoni rolls may have put Mt. Top Convenience on the map, but the store’s daily specials keep locals coming back. Skiers also pass through the quaint town on their way to the slopes.
“We have a lot of repeat customers. They come in each day. The hot roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy is really popular,” she said.
One of the more unique offerings is a Crispy Chicken Wrap. “It’s potato chip crusted chicken. We do this on Mondays. It’s pretty popular, but if customers ask for it on other days, we fix it for them.” Other hot sandwiches include an Italian sausage sub with peppers, meatball sub and chicken parmesan sub.
BUILD YOUR OWN PIZZA
Who doesn’t love building a pizza? Customers can customize their orders and watch as they are prepared.
When you have a popular sandwich, turn it into a pizza. “We sell a ton of steak subs. So, we decided to make it into a steak pizza. Instead of red sauce we use mayonnaise, minced garlic and cheese along with green peppers and onions,” Markwood described.
Custom-made deli sandwiches, wings and bean-to-cup coffee also count among the many items customers can enjoy at Mt. Top Convenience.
Every business in America seems to be seeking employees. Attracting workers is daunting. “Potential employees will not even show up for an interview,” she said.
“We’ve been hiring for two years. We’re pretty good right now and have a great crew, but we could use another part-time person. When summer comes, we’ll need two additional employees,” she said.
Everyone is feeling the pinch. “A lot of businesses around us are closing early because they don’t have the staff. Some go from five days a week to three days because they don’t have the employees. We’ve talked about strategies to keep employees. Come summer we may have to do something about it.”
Mt. Top Convenience has a large liquor inventory. “There are only three liquor stores in the county. All the local bars have to buy from one of us,” Markwood said.
Everyone seems to be looking for one thing—Crown Royal Peach.
Markwood said, “We order up to 10 cases a week. We only get it once every three months. The state is allocating it to certain stores at certain times. The most we get is five cases. It’s gone in three days. It’s very popular. A lot of people mix it with sweet tea.”
Finding a niche menu item like pepperoni rolls is the brass ring for a c-store, and Mt. Top Convenience grabbed that ring. When stellar customer service is also added, a c-store becomes unstoppable. Markwood said, “We are passionate about our business and strive to provide the best service to our customers who we greatly appreciate.”