When Denver resident Kim Christman was first told by friends to try Triangle Food Martâ€™s butcher, she was shocked. Go to a gas station for meat?
â€œI laughed at them at first,â€ she said. â€œIt was surprising. But then I tried them out and theyâ€™re great.â€
Christman now refers Triangle Food Martâ€™s meat selection to all her friends around the lake area, she says.
â€œThatâ€™s a similar story for all the customers that come in,â€ said Triangle Food Mart owner Ken Phillips.
A ripple effect seems to occur at Triangle, with customers bringing friends and relatives into the store and telling others about all they offer, said Phillips.
â€œItâ€™s one of the first things a lot of people tell people new to the areaâ€” â€˜go try the meat at Triangle Food Mart,â€™â€ he said. â€œPeople certainly seem delighted to come into a gas station to buy their meat.â€
The Denver institution celebrates a significant milestone this year â€” itâ€™s 20th anniversary.
Two decades of quality products, reasonably-priced gas and a welcoming restaurant, according to Phillips.
One of his greatest triumphs comes from knowing that many of his customers must pass two or three chain grocery stores in order to buy his meat, he said.
â€œThey just know we sell the best steaks,â€ he said.
Phillips also sells his steaks at 10 to 20 percent less than other retailers, yet maintains a higher standard of quality, he says.
People come from far and wide to shop at Triangle, according to Phillips.
Heâ€™s had a number of players on the Carolina Panthers — and other residents from across the Piedmont — stop by the store.
Itâ€™s also a popular stop for lake dwellers, who pick up all they need for a day out, â€œfrom gas to tackle to food,â€ said Phillips.
Though their gas sales certainly help with customers, Phillips says they make little to no profit off of it.
â€œBasically, we lose money on gas. In general, the retailer makes very little on gas, itâ€™s just a drawing card.â€
Nonetheless, â€œwe have never allowed anyone to undersell us.â€
This tactic has prompted considerable attention.
â€œWeâ€™re well known for having the lowest gas around,â€ said Phillips. In fact, their affordability was so newsworthy that at one point that Charlotte-based television news programs ventured out to interview them.
â€œCustomers can feel confident that they will pay the lowest price on gas here.â€
With an influx of new residents to the lake area, Phillips is happy to see his business grow with it.
â€œWe owe a lot to our customers,â€ he said.
However, he also gives a lot back to his customers, too.
â€œWhatever the customer needs, we try to find,â€ said Phillips. â€œWe cater to them in any way possible.â€
This includes purchasing entire pigs and kegs of beer for barbecues, and such exotic animal meat as antelope, buffalo and ostrich, he said.
For those who want a quick fix, Triangleâ€™s in-house restaurant, â€œThe Hen House,â€ is ready to serve.
â€œI was recently told that this was the most family-oriented little restaurant in Denver,â€ said Hen House employee Calene Bell.
The restaurant offers fried chicken, potato casserole, a host of breakfast foods and their popular burgers.
â€œWeâ€™re well-known, almost famous, for having the best burgers.â€
Their use of fresh ground chuck and locally-grown tomatoes and Vidalia onions is key to itâ€™s popularity, said Phillips.
Size also rules at the restaurant. â€œThe burgers are as big as hubcaps,â€ said George Hunter, a long-time Denver resident who recalls visiting the store as a child to buy bait.
Long-time customers offer Phillips a distinct sense of satisfaction.
â€œItâ€™s like watching your kids grow up here.â€
by Katie Rozycki