Until recently, I had only been to Kwik Trip for gas and maybe a newspaper, and occasionally to use their ATM.
During a recent visit with my hairstylist, Tony Schaller, we started talking about fried chicken.
"The best in town is at Kwik Trip," he said.
My reaction: "What, seriously?" Someone nearby in the salon agreed it was the best.
Speaking with others a few days later, I heard the same thing. Though in addition to the fried chicken, they praised the meatloaf, mac and cheese, and hamburgers, too.
Clearly, this required culinary research.
Walking into the Second Street Kwik Trip, I went to the take-home meal section, which was quite an eye-opener.
There were containers of the fried chicken tenders, whole roasted chickens, and eight-piece chicken packs. Nearby were meatloaf dinners, jambalaya, beef stroganoff, chicken fettuccini Alfredo, soups (cheesy broccoli and chili), and, of course, pizza, all fresh and ready to bake at home with a variety of toppings.
There was also a hot section, which is where I went next. I'd come for the fried chicken, so that's what I got — a three-piece jumbo chicken tender package for $3.99. On the recommendation of assistant store manager Jason Hanson, I added a small portion of mashed potatoes and gravy.
"They're the best — the real thing," he added as he rang me up.
Even though it was midafternoon, the chicken smelled so good I hurried home and dug right in. What I'd heard about the tenders was true. They were hot, juicy, tender and flavorful. The skin had lost most of its crispiness because of the steam of the clamshell packaging, but nonetheless, it was the best I've had in a long time.
The tenders aren't called "jumbo" for nothing — I could only eat one. The next day, I warmed the other two in a very hot oven, and they were just as delicious, and the skin had crisped up, crunchy and flavorful. The mashed potatoes and gravy? Almost like homemade.
Wanting to know more about the Kwik Trip food operation, I spoke with Dan Tukua, the company's food service district supervisor in our area.
"After doing research and seeing that take-home meals were making a mark on consumers, we decided to launch this new venture about a year ago," he said. "It's been very successful. It's also a revolving program where we'll take out the slower items and add new ones. In fact, a few weeks ago, we added Friday fish dinner, which features two pieces of cod."
"Right now, and from the beginning, the tenders have been the big seller," Tukua added.
I also learned that the chicken is fried up in all of the Kwik Trip kitchens every day from 10 a.m. to late afternoon, so it'll be fresh at any location.
Kwik Trip began in 1965 with a convenience store owned and operated by the John Hansen family in Eau Claire, Wis. It eventually involved two other families who were bought out by Don Zietlow in 1972. It's been growing, changing and expanding ever since. From just a few stores, they now number well over 700, with more opening every year.
The company sources just about everything it uses locally, and prides itself on self-sufficiency. They have their own food-production facilities, and their own truck operation, which delivers products to its stores in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa (where it's known as Kwik Star). Combined, they serve 8 million customers a week.
This new venture, led by the fried chicken tenders, takes this company down yet another path.
Who knew you can fill yourself up with fried chicken where you fill your car up with gas?
Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to email@example.com.