Imagine putting gas in your car and sitting down to a delicious meal - all in the same place. You can do that in Washington, D.C., where a combination gas station and convenience store is also serving food that’s getting rave reviews from customers. Fast Gourmet is doing a booming business.
Fast Gourmet is the one stop shop for Christina Wilkie, who fills her car with gas, buys candy, and then orders a sandwich. She lives nearby and considers Fast Gourmet a hidden gem.
“The food here is amazing. This place gets voted the best sandwich in Washington year after year. There are sandwiches that you wouldn’t expect like the chivito, which is steak, ham, eggs, cheese and olives. There are wonderful high quality ingredients,” said Wilkie.
Co-owners Lina Chovil, from Colombia, and her Argentine husband, Fernando Almiron, opened their gourmet gas station three years ago. Chovil said they drew upon their experiences back home where it's common to get good food from street vendors and at gas stations.
"What we want to serve is gourmet street food appealing to different cultures. We felt that the gas station would be a nice way to introduce a different way of dining to the Washington area," said Chovil.
High marks for fresh food
Fast Gourmet is in what is now a trendy neighborhood known as the U Street Corridor. Once a crime-ridden area, it is continuing to be revitalized. Customers come from all walks of life.
"We get people from the government, celebrity chefs, homeless. I've seen even a really, really nice vehicle parked that you would never expect to be here at this gas station," said Chovil.
Customers and food critics give Fast Gourmet high marks for its freshly prepared food - from American-style sandwiches, to Middle Eastern inspired dishes, to Latino favorites. After hearing about the food from his customers, limousine driver Melaku Tarekegn from Ethiopia decided to try it.
"Today is my lucky day. I love it. It's so delicious," said customer Melaku Tarekegn.
Fast Gourmet cashier William Mason, known as Big Mason, loves the chicken barbecue sandwich and ate eight of them in one day. After that, it was renamed the Big Mason.
“I couldn’t stop. I ate one and so I had to eat some more. I mean, they were delicious,” he said.
Colombian Oscar Garzon, who works nearby, often eats here. A friend brought him the first time.
“I was like 'ok, this is a gas station.' It smelled good so, all right, I'm going to order a sandwich, and the first bite I totally loved it," said Garzon.
The food brings back memories for Marlon Ulloa from El Salvador. “Reminds me of being back home making the sandwiches with the pork, ham and combining the spices and the sauces. It’s just amazing.”
Besides the food, there also is an amazing bathroom, nothing like you’ll see at other gas stations.
“You will remember it and you will come back," said Chovil.
Fast Gourmet's innovative concept is working. The gourmet gas station made money during the first year it opened, and this year will bring in more than a million dollars.