MICHIGAN, N.D. -- Customers at Hamster Oil in Michigan are fueling up with hot, homemade meals.
Hamster Oil owners Jay and Kathy Gilbertson began offering daily specials Monday through Friday at the convenience store about a year and a half ago after they saw how well received the fresh-baked doughnuts they served were with customers.
“I’ve been trucking all my life and I’ve been to convenience stores all over. Everybody has a niche so I said ‘Let’s try doughnuts,’” Jay said. “The doughnuts went over well . Then we were doing a little bit of muffins. Some of it really wasn’t a decision -- it just evolved.”
Glenda Garrett, Hamster Oil’s cook, makes the daily specials in a kitchen, above the convenience store, equipped with a double oven, refrigerator and other food preparation equipment.
“We’ve got a full restaurant license,” Jay said.
The Hamster Oil daily special is cook’s choice, depending on what food Glenda has on hand. It may be mashed potatoes and gravy and meatloaf one day and barbecued ribs and roasted potatoes, another.
“I’m an old farm boy -- meat and potatoes,” Jay said. “We go through about 50 pounds of potatoes a week. They’re real potatoes, not instant.” Besides the meat and potatoes the daily specials typically include a vegetable, a roll and dessert.
The meals are served in microwaveable plastic to-go boxes so customers who don’t want to take the time to eat at one of the tables in the convenience store can take them to their workplaces or homes.
During the summer, the meals are popular with farmers who take them out for themselves and their employees. Michigan and Petersburg, N.D., down the road about seven miles, don’t have cafes so farmers appreciate having a place to get a noon meal, Jay said.
Hamster Oil also is a convenient, close place to eat for employees of Leading Edge Equipment, the local John Deere dealership, said Jeremy Emory, who works at Leading Edge.
“Their food is amazing. It’s something different every day,” Emory said.
The Gilbertsons see the convenience store’s food service as filling a community need.
“It helps the community, the elderly, too,” Kathy said. “We have one gentleman come in every day.” If the daily special is too spicy for his taste, Glenda makes a separate, mild meal for him, she said.
The hot, daily specials aren’t the only fresh food Glenda makes for Hamster Oil. She arrives at the convenience store by 4:30 a.m. each weekday to make breakfast grab-n-go meals, such as breakfast burritos and treats, including caramel rolls and muffins. She and her staff also make about six dozen doughnuts each day.
By 7 a.m. a group of customers are at the station to visit, Jay said.
“It’s becoming a gathering place,” he said. “People come in and get coffee and doughnuts.”
Customer also buy fresh-baked buns. Hamster Oil sells about 10 dozen packaged buns each week, Jay said. Individuals, businesses and organizations also special-order buns for holidays and celebrations.
Meanwhile, the homemade submarine sandwiches Hamster Oil sells caught on with customers after the convenience store started using the buns Garrett and her staff bake to make them, Jay said.
One of the challenges of serving food is to change the choices before customers get bored with them, he said.
“The trick is keeping it fresh so people keep coming. You have to pull something away before they get tired of it. Then when people start asking, you start bringing it back.”
The Gilbertsons are unsure what food the convenience store will feature next, but he is certain Hamster Oil will continue to serve the daily specials.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing people seem to enjoy,” Kathy said.