By nature, gas stations aren’t much of a culinary mecca. While slushies and snack mix do have a certain appeal, a grimy bathroom and the smell of fuel don’t pair well with quality food. Gas stations are excellent places to stock up on road trip snacks; besides that, expectations are generally low. It’s pretty rare in general to visit a gas station for any reason other than necessity. At least, that’s how I used to look at it.
I won’t go so far as to say this is one of those instances when a significant event marks life with a distinct before and after. But to this day, almost three years after I first crossed the threshold into a convenience store in New Jersey, I still can’t get over it.
I can’t get over the utter phenomenon of tasty, made-to-order gas station subs.
To be fair, I’m not opposed to ordering a sandwich from a chain like Firehouse Subs or Jimmy John’s, and I am partial to the West Michigan-based Wesco gas stations. But the duality of these retail experiences never caused me to wonder what would happen if they successfully merged together. It doesn’t seem likely to occur here in West Michigan, anyway.
Things changed for me when I first joined my fiancé, Jake, on a trip back to his hometown in northern New Jersey. This was the summer of 2019 (which basically feels like eons ago now). That trip introduced me to many surprises, like the absence of any straight or flat road and the fact that seeing a bear is about as ordinary as seeing a dairy cow.
But the biggest surprise came upon visiting a gas station. The surprise wasn’t even the fact that it’s unlawful for New Jersyans to pump their own gas. It was the subs: not limp, pre-wrapped sandwiches sitting out in a cooler, but fresh and customizable sub sandwiches.
That week, we stopped at a few different gas stations and grabbed subs en route to the shore or after midday hiking excursions, and each time I marveled at my own enjoyment. The toasted bread with the perfect amount of fluff, the slices of savory meat, and the ruby-red slices of fresh New Jersey tomatoes all made for an overall delicious experience.
Yet it was QuickChek that stood out to me for the consistency of that experience. For those who haven’t been to New Jersey or the general New York metropolitan area, QuickChek—not to be confused with QuikTrip, Kwik Trip, Kwik Star, or Kwik Fill—is a gas station chain with over 150 locations. In addition to coffee, baked goods, and other typical commodities, QuickChek serves my favorite New Jersey gas station subs.
Jake and I were in New Jersey for a wedding last week, and I was all too eager to visit a QuickChek and order a sandwich on one of their handy kiosks. The day before we left, I finally got my fix with the tried-and-true Ham & American. I think my mouth watered more than a little when the employee called out our order number. As usual, my sub was delicious.
Of course, the irony isn’t lost on me. Native Northeasterners, who probably seek out actual sandwich shops for quality hoagies, are likely chuckling at my admiration for gas station fare. I know Jake finds it pretty amusing.
Maybe my palette isn’t very refined. Maybe I’m just too easy to please. But here I am, an ordinary Midwestern girl, craving a meal from a gas station that’s 700 miles away—and still not sure when I’ll get over it.
Kayleigh (Fongers) Van Wyk (’18) graduated with a degree in writing and resides in West Michigan. She works as a reporter for the Grand Rapids Business Journal and Grand Rapids Magazine while also making time for freelance writing. When she’s not behind a screen, she enjoys going for walks, eating ice cream, and buying more books than she’ll ever read.