So established is Circle K that even brand-new vehicles recognize what its red-and-white logo stands for—fuel, snacks, and everything else a car might need to keep powering down the road with its driver. Circle K's story starts back in 1951, when Fred Hervey bought three Kay's Food Stores in El Paso, Texas. Under his guidance, these three little shops grew into the more than 3,000 convenience stores that crouch on our nation's street corners today.
After rolling up to a Circle K, drivers can pump their faithful roadsters full of high-octane fuel and send them skipping through a car wash to experience the cleansing touch of Blue Coral Beyond Green and Rain-X products. Then it's time to step inside the air-conditioned shop for a peek at the provisions. Rows of sodas hibernate behind glass doors, and snacks, candy, and their ATM guardians stand boldly out in the open. Some Circle Ks also offer the Take Away Café, which presents an appetizing lineup of healthy road fare including Ball Park hot dogs. Drivers can gear up for a long drive with Premium Coffees or enjoy a cold Polar Pop, whose specially formulated cup keeps drinks colder thanks to the family of tiny snowmen trapped in its foam walls.
Each Candyopolis is home to more than 1,000 different varieties of sweets––everything from Depression-era favorites such as licorice, Herbert Hoovers, and "chewing dirt" to the latest wave of sugary and sour confections (Toxic Waste sour candy, $1.99). Retro sweet teeth sink into Abba Zaba candy bars ($7.99 per pound), Big Hunk ($1.49), and the Holy Trinity for chewing connoisseurs: Beemans, Black Jack, and Clove Gum ($1.50 each). Imported and domestic chocolates cohabitate peacefully in neighboring bulk bins, and insurgent bands of gummy worms build IEDs out of Pop Rocks ($0.99) and plot military coups over Candyopolis's ruling class of imported Haribo gummy bears ($3.99 per half pound), which also come dipped in chocolate ($4.99 per half pound). With 48 flavors of Jelly Bellies ($5.99 per half pound), 50 unique PEZ dispensers ($2.49 each), and 21 colors of M&Ms ($5.99 per half pound), each year Candyopolis exports a colorful crop of treats directly to the bellies of local children, children at heart, and hopelessly misinformed health nuts everywhere.
As evidenced by their shop’s name, the staff at Pioneer Dream Cheesecakery loves making good, creamy cheesecake. But the pastry chefs also have other baking tricks up their sleeves, using their skills to create decadently frosted cupcakes, fudgy brownies, and spicy jars of habanero jelly in festive mason jars. Most of their menu is made up of cupcake flavors, with the rotating weekly selection often including options such as cherry limeade, black forest, and cappuccino with espresso-infused caramel. Alongside their treats, the staff offers a range of teas and Soda Steve’s mission blend coffee.
While the walls’ crimson mosaic tiles glitter in the sunlight that filters in through large windows, CherryBerry’s guests pump out rotating flavors of frozen yogurt and lounge on puffy, mod-style furniture. With each creamy bite, it becomes more evident that the yogurt was made from all-natural ingredients: the strawberry contains tiny chunks of fruit, and the chocolate’s rich flavor could never have come from a powdered mix.
With more than 50 fruit, nut, and candy options overflowing from its bins and canisters, the topping bar plays home to fresh berries and healthful granola as well as candy-coated chocolates and sprinkles. Like a tag-team dance-off at the U.N., the yogurt itself features four types of live and active cultures, all of which aid in digestion. Low-fat, fat-free, and gluten-free flavors abound, as do sorbet options with no dairy and Splenda-sweetened yogurts with no added sugar.
The founders of Orange Leaf started their business with the goal of finding a middle ground between rich scoops of ice cream and bland yogurt. Mission accomplished: they have created more than 65 tasty flavors, including pumpkin pie, gingerbread, blueberry banana, white chocolate, and Dole pineapple, that are both nutritious and tasty. After customers self-pump their selected flavors—which rotate regularly—they add toppings such as cereal, candy, nuts, and fruit. With finishing touches in place, a staff member weighs creations to price them or to determine their class in the shop’s underground yogurt-fighting ring.