Independently Speaking: Deli Delight
Tiger Fuel’s flagship store competes on more than just price
On the Western city limits of Charlottesville, Va., is the c-store deli of your dreams. As the flagship store of Tiger Fuel Co., Bellair Market has attracted widespread attention for its delicious sandwiches and local product offering. It draws business from blue-collar workers, classy clientele from local neighborhoods and the students who put this college town on the map.
Gordon Sutton, the supervising manager of Bellair Market, works in the retail arm of a diverse family business. Tiger Fuel does home propane and short truck distribution and operates a large network of 140 dealer sites, distributing BP, CITGO and Exxon branded gas as well as its private label, EXCEL. The retail component of the business owns and operates seven stores and owns another five consignment locations. Bellair Market is the face of it all.
In 1991, Tiger Fuel took over the lease of what was an old auto-mechanic service station and did a complete remodel.
“The management at the time decided to go for America’s first gourmet gas station,” Sutton says.
The company installed a full kitchen and extended the front of the store, but it left the original garage bays. Today, the 2,300-square-foot space has hardwood floors and granite countertops.
“It’s a very attractive store with classic charm,” Sutton says, “but it is small. The sheer volume of sales we pump through that space is insane.”
It’s a small interior on a tight lot, but Bellair still manages to bring in a solid profit from c-store inside sales, and its deli sales were almost double that of the c-store last year.
“We’re on a busy road on the West side of Charlottesville,” Sutton says. “We catch everybody coming in and out of town.”
A big component of its success is that Bellair Market is also closer to the University of Virginia campus than Tiger Fuel’s other stores. It draws catering business from the university and benefits from sparse competition and an affluent clientele in that area of town.
Bellair is known far and wide for its gourmet sandwiches, recently lauded in Bon Appetit magazine. The menu, largely created by general manager Pat Pitts, is equal parts creative and classic. Favorites include the Jefferson, which people describe as the “Thanksgiving sandwich” because it’s loaded with turkey and cranberry sauce; and the Birdwood, which layers cracked-pepper turkey, bacon and banana peppers. Customers often comment on the quality of the fresh bread and the tastiness of Bellair’s herbed mayo. Bellair’s Yelp site is full of passionate reviews from people all over the map.