Convenience Retailer Brings Southern Comfort to Foodservice Program

Gaubert Oil launches proprietary ‘Cajun fast food’ concept
restaurant quality food

Gaubert Oil is following the pack. Not the convenience-store pack, mind you—the restaurant one.

The Thibodaux, La.-based convenience retailer is bringing restaurant-quality food to several of its Go-Bears stores with its new Go-Bears Southern Eatery. And if the response to the first site is any indication, customers are going to be thrilled about it.

“They’re saying everything is great and that you don’t get that food in normal convenience stores,” says Jennifer Holder, director of foodservice for the 13-store chain.

“We’re trying to bring a restaurant atmosphere and feel,” says David Williamson, vice president of retail operations.

“We want it to be a restaurant with a store in it rather than a store with a restaurant in it. It’s got to be cool and have a good vibe.”

The new eatery was implemented in the Go-Bears store in St. Charles, La., in June, and launched with a soft opening as the company continues to tweak menu items, work on pricing and await signage. Since the opening, it has seen customer counts and average tickets rise by 40% and 30%, respectively, says Holder. Margins are also up, to about 60% profit, compared to 20% to 30% profits she was seeing from the quick-service restaurant (QSR) locations Gaubert Oil operates.

“We expect another 20% of growth when we put up a sign this fall at street level,” she says.

Building a Concept

Having operated QSRs for years, Gaubert Oil decided to go all-in for its foodservice program. It developed the recipes, which are made in a nearby commissary that is owned and operated by an outside company. Holder runs blind tastings with coworkers and customers, then tells the commissary which items she’d like prepared. The food is shipped frozen to the stores in 6-pound bags, defrosted overnight and then served the next day cafeteria-style, dished up by c-store staff to customers who pass through the serving line.

The main advantage of serving food from a commissary is the consistency, Williamson says. “All you have to do is thaw it out and put it on the front line and it looks like you have a full kitchen staff in the back,” he says.

One challenge has been the par levels, Williamson says: “We have to figure out how much we get out of the freezer every day. We can’t skip a beat if we need to refi ll it, so to maximize our throughput, we have to have enough food.”

The meals cost $9 to $12, a significant increase over the $5 average the chain was seeing with its QSRs. Gaubert Oil has no plans to do any discounts.

“One thing we’re trying to do is make our locations super-nice, restaurant-like,” Williamson says. “We are not going to try and bring in the consumer with a falsely attractive offer in terms of price. We do have specials and combos, but we want to back the quality and integrity of our food. We’re not going to drop the price just to get people in there.”

The “Cajun fast food,” as Williamson calls it, is a far cry from traditional c-store fare, including crawfish étouffée, chicken and sausage jambalaya, and gumbos. “I think people get sandwiched out,” he says.

The meals are all served in a to-go format, though about half of them are consumed on site. There are about 50 seats and a TV in a comfortable area, “and we’ve figured that helps the success of the project,” Williamson says, “even though it takes up a fair amount of space.” If you have a rice and beans dish, “you certainly don’t want to drive and eat it,” Holder says.

The food remains the same every day, with one daily special. The menu is divided into sections:

  • Entrées (étouffée, $8.99, jambalaya, $7.99)
  • Seafood (fried platters, $8.99)
  • Chicken (tender basket, $7.99, and fried chicken basket with two to 16 pieces for $4.79 to $19.99)
  • Sandwiches (sloppy roast beef for $4.99 or $7.99 depending on size, fried fish for $5.99 or $8.99, and homemade boudin, $3.99 or $6.99)
  • Salads
  • Quick Bites (beans and rice, corn dogs, or meat pies, $1.69 to $2.59).

Examples of daily specials are red beans and rice with a choice of fried pork chop or two chicken tenders, salad and French bread on Monday for $7.99; and shrimp stew, fish strip, potato salad, sweet peas and French bread on Fridays, also for $7.99.

The St. Charles store sees 86% of its sales at lunchtime, but at dinner it offers some smaller $2 and $3 “Quick Bites”—fried items such as jalapeño poppers, egg rolls, meat pies and corn dogs, which customers seem to prefer in the evenings. These items are delivered individually quick frozen from different manufacturers. (Only the entrées come from the commissary.) This fall, some seasonal limited-time offers will show up on the Quick Bites menu.