Posts Tagged ‘@Thorntonsinc’
I’ve written a lot about ‘gas station sandwiches,” a term I use to describe the cello wrapped sandwiches, fresh or heat and eat, one finds at c-stores, gas stations, and in vending machines.
The earliest ones I remember were from a Virginia company called “Stewart Sandwiches” who sold mostly to bars, concession stands, and schools and companies.
Their “heat and eat” versions used a patented device the company provided called an “In-Fra-Red” oven (pictured), which was kind of a predecessor of microwaves being widely used. The sandwiches were placed in the ovens, still in their cello, and they took 3-5 minutes to heat.
In addition to “subs” and burgers, their version of “chuck wagon” (breaded, fried hamburger) was very popular, as was their “pizza burger.” My college roommate and I used to buy quantities of these puppies and sell them in the dorm, til the school shut us down.
Stewart operated via a franchise model, with about a couple dozen distributors around the country that established their own customers/routes. At some point (which I can’t really seem to sort out through research), Stewart faded and some of their franchisees took up the mantel – the largest being the (now known as) “Deli Express” label, a suburban Minneapolis company, which cranks out a million sandwiches a week at their Minnesota factory.
Other than “Deli Express,” “Landshire,” and Ohio’s “AdvancePierre” (who recently acquired Landshire), the segment seems to be fairly regional, with a lot of smaller manufacturers like “Mom’s” in OK and Texas.
7-Eleven contracts some of their sandwiches out to a division of Lufthansa airlines.
Although many of these sandwiches are assembled by hand in the smaller companies, automation has created mass production efficiency as seen in this video.
In my opinion, for the most part, these sandwiches are largely “OK” but usually a little spendy. If you want something quick to go and relatively “fresh” they are a handy alternative to fast food. Some are considerably healthier than say, a Quarter Pounder and fries.
I’ve written a number of pieces lately on a gas station that recently moved into my neighborhood, a smallish chain in the Midwest called “Thorntons” and I’ve sampled a number of their heat and eat products, including a burger, Pizza, chicken sandwich, breakfast sandwich and tenders.
Today I tried their “fresh” sandwiches, an Italian Footlong sandwich (sic), at $4.99, on a long roll with ham, salami, pepperoni and provolone. It comes completely condiment free, but the gas station has an amply stocked condiment ‘bar.’ I’m ok with cello wrapped sandwiches being sold ‘naked,’ too often in these products if lettuce/tomato are included, they’ve seen better days, as of course the deli meats are full of preservatives and maintain their appearance much longer than the vegetables. As far as the spreadable condiments, every person has their individual tastes, some sandwiches come with packets of mustard/mayo included in the cello wrapping.
What did I think?
It’s ok, no better or worse than any other brand. The expiration date on this one is weeks in the future, but the bread is already pretty dry, and the only flavor that really ‘pops’ is the pepperoni, and that ingredient is the least in volume on the sandwich, with of course, the least expensive meat, the processed ham, being in attendance in the largest quantity.
I added mustard and dill pickles at home, but it didn’t really enhance or detract from the experience.
Since Thorntons has extensive roller grill offerings (hot dogs, sausages, those cylinder “Mexican” things, and a fresh condiment bar along side that, I probably would have been better off to open the sandwich at the gas station and load it up with junk there.
Live and learn.
Gas Station Sandwich Primer
Fourth in a series of four. Thornton’s is a medium size gas station chain based out of Louisville. They’ve been rolling out hot snack foods at some of their stations, and I’ve tried their pizza, burgers, and breakfast sandwiches so far.
Today I picked up the “Southern Style Crispy Chicken Sandwich,” which is two of the tenders they sell as a snack offering, on a bakery bun. Half way through my chewing, I also discovered 3 pickle chips under the chicken!
The flavor of the chicken is OK, the breading is light, but not all that crispy. For some reason, despite playing with it for over 50 years, the food industry hasn’t been able to figure out how to have a crispy coating on food without it coming directly from a deep fryer (which this does not).
Like I thought on the other snacks, the chicken sandwich is a little spendy. On the upside for any of their offerings including an extensive seclection of roller grill choices, Thornton’s has an amazing array of add your own condiments, both fresh and packaged, and that’s a real plus over the competitors.
As an afterthought, I grabbed one of their “cheese bread” snacks. The packaging makes it look more substantial than it actually is (see pix below), and it rings up at $1.99. Like many of their competitors, Thornton’s cuts a slice of pizza into “cheese bread.” So the prices is 1/2 the price of their 2 slice pizza serving. While most of the condiments available for use on your sandwiches and dogs are recognizable brand names, the company’s choice for the included marinara dipping sauce is from Diamond Crystal, a diversified manufacturer in Savannah, GA, known primarily for being a supplier of ingredients and dry and liquid condiments. The sauce is heavy on high fructose corn syrup and modified food starches, if you pay attention to those types of things.
The chain also offers a free membership points system that has some pretty good incentives, both inside the stores and at the pumps. Worth a stop. Locator
Thorntons Chicken Sandwich Review
My “beef” with all this food is primarily its value proposition, as well as the manner in which its preparation is marketed (previously discussed). Last night I tried their cheeseburger, hot and ready to go after 11AM at $3.49 a pop. I wish there were Federal regulations about posting contents and nutritional agreements on fast food containers, but unfortunately there are not. So I have no idea what this burger patty is made out of, or its calorie, carb, and fat content.
I’ve looked at an awful lot of heat and eat burgers over the years, including Steak n Shake (awful), White Castle (pretty faithful to the restaurant product), AM/PM Gas Stations, Big A Cheeseburgers, RaceTrac gas stations, Walgreens, Dollar Tree, Ball Park brand in the grocery, others.
I’m not going to bother to rank them, if you like this kind of food, they all have some redeeming qualities. For taste, texture, I like the Ball Park, for value, anything that’s a buck.
Thornton’s cheeseburger comes on a “bakery roll,” (one of those bakery marketing phrases that has lost all meaning, like “hard rolls,” or “kaiser rolls).” No standardization. Anyway, to me, the bun has a darker color and a little bit of a sweeter taste, like a brioche. The beef patty’s texture is ok, it’s made to look like it’s a hand formed patty (there are factory machines that make patties with this type of appearance), and it has been given a squirt or dash of liquid smoke or its equivalent to give the impression of a grill taste.
Verdict? It’s Ok. As I have opined on their other offerings, their food products are not a very good value compared to other available choices. And for some unknown reason, these guys put the cheese on the bottom. Some “celebrity” chefs have been crowing about this method lately, to maximize the separate tastes on your buds, in a particular order. Yawn. Don’t even get me started on Umami joke.
Thorntons Gas Station Food Review
The other day, I wrote about the new food offerings at Thorntons, a regional gas station chain, based out of Louisville. I reviewed their pizza here.
At many locations in the chain, they offer hot snacks in addition to the usual roller grill selections; snacks include breakfast biscuits and burritos, hamburgers, tenders, tater crowns and the like.
Almost immediately after the post was up, I heard from the company’s PR firm (contact), a small concern in Louisville, KY. They took a slight exception to my calling the food “heat and eat,” as the company markets the offerings as “Made Fresh.” Some of the marketing states “Made Fresh In House,” and the website states: “Made Fresh Daily In the Store.” There’s no mistaking what that last phrase says, but the first two could be open to some interpretation. Further dissecting the website phrase, “Made Fresh,” to be sure, is pretty ambiguous, and I take a wee bit of exception to what exactly that phrase means.
I’m not picking on Thorntons, particularly, the marketing arms of the entire food industry tend to play fast and loose with English these days, and consumers can suffer. A lot of words, and terms, are used loosely and freely, without have a specific, defined direct meaning. I hate it when that happens!
Free range, cage free, organic, all natural, additive free, farm fresh, and so on. For specific foods, phrases like “Angus Beef,” “Kobe Beef,” and “Champagne.” For me, I guess, its the senior moment equivalent of yelling “hey you kids, get off of my lawn.” (Yes, I know that makes absolutely no sense).
Because I suppose most of America doesn’t care. It’s not like you’re going to whiz past a 7-Eleven and race to Thorntons because 7-Eleven does not have a banner in its store window saying that their sandwiches and pizzas are “Made Fresh in House.” Are you? (In fact, many of 7-Elevens cooler sandwiches are made by a division of Lufthansa, the German airline).
No, we who partially exist on gas station food purchase primarily based on geographical convenience (“it’s here, I’m here, let’s eat), price, or selection variety). ‘Cause it comes down to personal taste, doesn’t it? Hell, some people love Domino’s pizza.
Apparently for some companies (and I’m not naming names), “Made Fresh in House” is acceptable usage for pre-assembled food products, thawed or heated up in the store.
Whereas to me “Made Fresh in House,” means raw ingredients are cooked, and assembled, in the store. You know like, a) take pizza dough, b) slather on sauce and cheese, add toppings c) bake.
Today I tried the Thornton’s breakfast biscuit with bacon, egg and cheese. It’s really no better or worse than any of the fast food biscuits. It’s cheaper, it was $2.59 at my store – the area competitor’s products ring up at:
- McDonalds – 3.64
- Burger King – 3.41
- Chic-Fil-A – 2.95
- Sonic – 3.29 (with Texas toast, they don’t have biscuits)
You can also get a side of taters at Thorntons, (tots, crowns, discs, whatever you call them) for 99 cents with a sandwich purchase. Not sure if that is for a limited time or not. They didn’t really seem done, to me. They weren’t crispy, anyway. (Although this will happen to any hot, crisp product placed in an enclosure – the steam that can’t escape kills the crispness). I do love my tots, tho.
The flavor of the biscuit was OK. The biscuit itself was gummy. As if you bought a biscuit sandwich out of a cooler and did it in the microwave. Food is time/date stamped for “best by.”
Admittedly, the texture of food figures highly in making a list of favorites.
And that is why, of all the breakfast biscuits available in the United States, my favorite is from a Southern chicken chain called “Bojangles,” and for one simple reason. They use REAL HAM. Hard to find in almost any restaurant these days, impossible to find (except at Bojangles) in fast food joints, who across the board, opt for that chopped, pressed, formed deli “meat” crap. Ick.
If biscuits are your thing, I have previously reviewed:
Advance Pierre (c-store cooler microwave product)
Larry the Cable Guys (frozen biscuits and gravy, dollar store)
Thorntons Food Review
Thorntons is a regional gas station chain, started in 1971 in Louisville; they have about 200 locations in six states, and about 20 % of them have expanded hot food offerings.
They have a few stations around me, in suburban Chicago, and a brand new one opened just up the road last September. When they opened, their food offerings were typical mini mart / gas station stuff; wrapped sandwiches, roller grill treats, pastries. A buncha coffees and soft drinks.
I am not sure why they waited to install the “kitchen,” perhaps just part of a chain-wide roll out, or maybe the equipment/contractor wasn’t available until now. In any case, a few weeks ago, in a matter of days, they put together an open food prep area, a monster exhaust hood, and a couple of very expensive convection ovens.
I could be wrong, but I don’t think anything is actually prepared on site; it seems more like a heat and eat operation. I think if they were preparing from scratch, they’d have real quality control and timing problems. Their tagline to cover the subject is “Made Fresh.” I’m going to write an entire piece on that phrase in a day or so.
Being in the first few weeks of kitchen operation, the company made sure the neighborhood has a supply of coupons, each of which provided a free food item with the purchase of a fountain drink or coffee. Among the items I have seen at this outlet are single serving pepperoni pizzas, cheese bread, chicken tenders, breakfast and lunch sandwiches, soft pretzels, fruit, and a few other items. Full menu. (Not sure if all items are available at every location).
The company decided to go with a “Detroit-Style” pizza, and if you are not familiar with the term, think Little Caesars deep dish, or square pies from Jet’s (both Detroit based companies).
It’s a thick bready crust, crispy on the exterior, chewably soft on the interior. The Thorton’s recipe calls for lots of cheese, with a great melt, and they offer cheese or pepperoni models. They are fairly generous with the pepperoni, and it’s good quality. There is no charring or cupping, which indicates a lower fat content.
The tomato sauce is nondescript, as it probably should be to appeal to the masses.
If I have an objection to Thornton’s offerings, I think they are pretty expensive, compared to competitors. The pizza is $3.99, the tenders are 2 for $2.59. In all fairness, the pizza would probably satisfy two ‘normal’ appetites.
I got my pie free with a coupon and the purchase of a small drink. Would I buy it again? Yep. It’s hot and tasty. 7-Eleven is big in the pizza business, but not around here. The largest supplier of pizzas for gas station type operations is Hunt Brothers, with over 7000 locations; I tried it in Montana, but again, haven’t seen it locally. Might be available at one of the truck stops down the road. Kwik Trip, a Wisconsin based convenience chain, and Casey’s General Store, an Iowa based chain, have a ton of outlets in the Upper Midwest, and both offer whole pies or by the slice. I’ve written about both Casey’s and Kwik Trip’s pizzas. Other gas station/c-store suppliers include Noble Roman’s, Picadilly, Hot Stuff, and Bellaricos. Of all these, Casey’s is my favorite, but Thornton’s moves up to # 2. If they have specials or sales, it will periodically slide into the number 1 position. Thortons Locator
Thorntons Pizza Review