The sea-salt flaked biscuit overflows with decadent scoops of jam and butter.
The cappuccino, made with locally-roasted beans, comes complete with a flawless flower swirled in the foam.
Filled with light, subway tile and loopy hand-lettering, Tandem Bakery in Portland, Maine has all the hallmarks of a hipster enclave. Heck, it’s even named after a type of bicycle.
But its location might take the cake. Few things could be more hip – more industrial chic – than its home in an old gas station where a “treat” might have once meant a stale doughnut or endlessly-rotating corn dog.
These days, corn dogs are out. Converted gas stations are in. From Burlington to Biloxi, entrepreneurs are refurbishing old Shells and Standard Oils, creating trendy spaces to eat, drink and mingle. Here are seven worth checking out.
Tandem Bakery, Portland, Maine
From gas to laundry to pastries: This 1960s gas station was first converted into a laundromat before the current owners got their hands on it.
“It had been sitting empty for years,” said co-owner Kathleen Pratt, who also runs Tandem Cafe and Roastery. “It actually was slated to become a bakery opened by other folks. That fell through, so they asked if we wanted it. We immediately jumped on the opportunity – the building was too cool to let go.”
Today, the hot spot nearly always has a line, with patrons jostling each other for a look at the elegant display of baked goods.
The breakfast sandwiches are rightfully popular, but first-timers should give the aforementioned “loaded biscuit” a try. It might settle the sweet-versus-savory breakfast debate once and for all, proving that the answer is not one or the other – but, rather, a combination of the two.
Tandem Bakery, 742 Congress St, Portland, ME 04102; + 1 207 805 1887
Tank Garage Winery, Calistoga, California
When oenophiles picture sipping wine in Napa, they probably picture something a bit upscale, even bougie. Not, say, a gas station.
Tank Garage Winery’s founders wanted to bring a different vibe to the valley – and, according to co-founder James Harder, “liked the idea of doing something nostalgic.”
For several years, he and business partner Jim Regusci searched for the perfect location, until, finally, they came across a 1930s service station with the art-deco shape they’d envisioned.
After two years of restoration, they started serving their small-batch California wines in 2014. The grapes come from all over the state, and each blend is unique: Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Right now, it’s the Chrome Dreams blend that’s receiving buzz, thanks to its one-of-a-kind chromed wine bottle.
Continually inspired by its location, the winery has vintage gas pumps out front and a ’20s-style speakeasy out back. A shiny Indian Chief motorcycle is also on display; a tribute to the station’s original owner Eddie Bratton, who raced and repaired the classic bikes.
Tank Garage Winery, 1020 Foothill Blvd, Calistoga, CA 94515, + 1 707 942 8265
The Gold Fish, Corpus Christi, Texas
A recent addition to the scene, The Gold Fish opened its doors in 2017 – in a station that had been built 80 years earlier. Turning it into a bar took five months of “relentless” restoration, according to co-owner Robert Cooper.
The result is a lofty space filled with rustic painted brick, metal accents and a wooden bar top whose pine was salvaged from a 1930s cold storage facility. Eleven-foot French doors flood the interior with light, leading out onto a roomy patio that has fire pits, long picnic tables and live music. Specialties include craft cocktails – with many of the all-natural juices squeezed in-house – and an extensive selection of whiskey.
“We weren’t searching for a gas station,” said Cooper. “All we knew was that we wanted a building with character – and we found that here.”
The Gold Fish, 724 N Mesquite St, Corpus Christi, TX 78401, + 1 361 980 7171
The Spot, Burlington, Vermont
Surfing and Vermont aren’t two things that usually go together – but try to tell a Southern Californian that. When Roxanne and Russ Scully left Santa Barbara for Burlington in 1997, they found neither waves nor a breakfast spot that was up to snuff.
California swells could not be found, but breakfast? They took care of it.
“We purchased this gas station knowing it would be a perfect place to run a restaurant,” said Russ Scully. “And when it came to decor, we poured our stoke for surfing into the place.”
Housed in a 1950s service station, the Spot does feel like an oasis from the harsh Vermont winters. Surfboards, plants and ocean blues light up the beachy interior, and the locally-sourced menu has a Hawaiian bend, with fish tacos and sandwiches named after surfing terms and destinations.
The Spot, 210 Shelburne Rd, Burlington, VT 05401, + 1 802 540 1778
The Fillin’ Station, Biloxi, Mississippi
For a diverse, homegrown crowd, head to this joint in downtown Biloxi. It started as a Standard Oil station in the 1920s, fell empty in the ’80s and then reopened as The Fillin’ Station in 2008; a welcome part of Biloxi’s revitalization.
The restaurant focuses on southern cooking with a creole flair, and is known for its shrimp and grits and unique cheeseburger po-boy. You also can’t go wrong with the daily blue plate special for $8.95, which includes local favorites like a bowl of gumbo and fried shrimp po-boy.
When it’s not screaming hot outside, the doors roll up so everyone can join the party – including the descendants of the building’s original owners, who remain patrons to this day.
The Fillin’ Station, 692 Howard Ave, Biloxi, MS 39530, + 1 228 435 2522
Olio, St. Louis, Missouri
Those who’ve never felt beckoned to a gas station before should take a look at this cozy restaurant when it’s lit up inside.
Housed in a 1930s Standard Oil station, Olio bursts with charm: the interior paneled in subway tile, the garage doors that roll up on pleasant evenings and the patio strung with romantic white lights. Patrons linger over wine and cocktails served in antique glassware, and a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean small-plate menu starring olives, eggplants, nuts, cured meats and bread baked fresh with Missouri wheat.
“The gas station was an opportunity to have an interesting space and also help renew the neighborhood,” said chef and owner Ben Poremba. “The aesthetics matched the theme of the decor: found objects, rustic, urban.”
Poremba owns several other restaurants in this historical area of South St. Louis – including the adjoining Elaia, located in an 1890s house where the gas station’s owner used to reside, now known for intimate multi-course fine dining.
Olio, 1634 Tower Grove Ave, St. Louis, MO 63110, + 1 314 932 1088
Fuel, Charleston, South Carolina
On a nice day, head straight to the spacious, dog-friendly patio at this former Esso. It’s got bocce ball and cornhole, plush seating, palm trees – and one nod to the venue’s practical past: a rusty fuel pump.
The restaurant has catered to a laid-back, local crowd for nearly a decade. Highlights of its Caribbean-inspired menu include jerk chicken sandwiches, braised pork tacos and rum drinks.
When he first toured the space in 2008, owner Joshua Broome said he “immediately fell in love” with its history and architecture.
“The building clearly had a story to tell,” he said. “The fact it’s always been a blue collar space helped shape what we’ve become… We’re continuing the tradition of ‘fill-er-up’ – just with jerk chicken and cold beer.”
Fuel, 211 Rutledge Ave, Charleston, SC 29403, + 1 843 737 5959
Susan Shain is a freelance writer who covers travel, food and personal finance. She’s written for Travel + Leisure, The Independent, The Washington Post and more. Her work can be found at susanshain.com