On Route 322 in Ephrata, Pa., a new Sheetz location tempts drivers with popcorn chicken and fried pickles, 24 hours a day.
And yet change is afoot. To find it, the best place to go is Altoona, Pa., the home of Sheetz, one of the largest and fastest-growing convenience-store operators in the country, with 440 outlets and annual revenues of $7 billion. The brash and sprawling Sheetz clan is at the leading edge of an effort to remake convenience stores into something tastier and more wholesome, built around prepared food rather than chips, gas, and cigarettes. One indication of the upgrade: Sheetz, the home of the shmuffin and the shmiscuit and the shmagel, was among five winners of the 2012 Golden Chain Award from Nation's Restaurant News, the first time a convenience store made the cut.
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