Revealed: the surprisingly simple beginnings of retail food icons!

A successful rise from modest roots to sustained success is one of those themes that never gets old; especially in our industry, where it resonates with the American entrepreneurial spirit.

And when it comes to c-store chains, as well as quick serve and fast casual restaurants, the difference between how things started and how they’re going can be startling. This week, we’ll be taking a look at some notable examples of retailer beginnings, an approach the comic book business might call a Special Origins Issue. Let’s see who made the list.

Kentucky Fried Chicken: There’s nothing more American than fried chicken, and the Colonel sure figured out how to tap into our love for it. His famous story is a feel-good template for business success: an older guy gets started after a rather lackluster career and starts serving his special recipe out of a service station that lets him operate rent free. (Shout out Shell Oil!) Now he’s a logo. I mean, he’s literally the logo. You don’t get bigger than that.

Pizza Hut: The c-store industry has absolutely changed the retail pizza landscape, through preparing their own high-quality pizza fresh in-store, or partnering with a proven programs like Hunt Brothers or Godfather’s to do the same. Not too long ago, though, the Pizza Hut chain was unique in how it satisfied pizza cravings across the country, dominating in rural towns off the main highway. Turns out that’s where the franchise’s roots lay, too, as you can see from this humble brick not-quite-hut in Wichita, Kansas.

Circle K: This SSCS customer has one of the very highest profiles in the c-store industry, a retail juggernaut with 6,619 sites in the U.S. alone, and 14,800 globally. Its roots, however, can be found in a small, regional three-site operation in El Paso, Texas. The chain was called Kay’s Food Stores, and in 1951, Fred Hervey, an enterprising local restaurateur bought it. He began to expand and never looked back. This picture, while not one of the original three stores, is certainly vintage Circle K.

Wawa: A distinctive brand from the Delaware Valley in Pennsylvania, Wawa didn’t start out as a store at all. It started as an iron foundry in 1803. Then it became a successful dairy store with a history spanning decades. And then, in 1964, to provide an outlet to sell dairy, as much as anything else, Wawa started its first c-store. Now it’s a regional legend. Here, Fast-Food-Restaurant tells the whole fascinating story.

Lawson: You may know Lawson as a c-store giant in the Asian market (Japan, China, Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines), but did you know it started in 1939 as an American store—a dairy store much like Wawa? It was only in 1975 that the rights to the store and the name were sold to Japan. The whole tale, with some great old photos, can be found in this story.


The c-store industry continues to contrast with its past, growing more sophisticated and scientific in the way it pursues profitability. This requires computerization, which is why SSCS has been offering software solutions to the industry for over 40 years, growing along with those whom we serve. If you’re looking for a technology partner to move forward with you, consider us. Origin stories are fun, but only when they have a happy ending. Give us a call at 800 927 7727 and we’ll help you work toward one of your own.