FriendShip Kitchen has expanded into the central Ohio market. The combined convenience store, restaurant, and fuel center held its ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday at its newest store at 45 Coral Bend Road just off U.S. Route 23 in Lewis Center.
Among the most popular items FriendShip Kitchen offers are its “FriendShip famous chicken” and its line of breakfast sandwiches, burritos and bowls. Other items include pizza, subs, and sides such as macaroni and cheese, baked apples, and more.
“What’s different about our products is that there are companies that will allow you to do touchscreen ordering,” Beck Suppliers, Inc. President Greg Ehrlich said. “You have no idea how long you might wait for your food. We have very strict production times to make sure that food quality is always great … We treat ourselves like a restaurant, we run the kitchens like a restaurant because, frankly, that’s what we are.”
Ehrlich said that while their chicken might be the “hero” of the restaurants, the pizza is a very close second. Many of the pizzas are made with their chicken, he said, which allows customers to enjoy both.
For customers looking to fill up their gas tanks, the Lewis Center FriendShip Kitchen location offers six pumps.
FriendShip is the retail division of Beck Suppliers, a petroleum, propane, and fuel services company that began in Fremont, Ohio, in 1950. The company made its foray into the convenience store business in 1986, opening the first FriendShip Food Store in Port Clinton, Ohio.
Ehrlich said the name for the stores had two derivatives. First, Ehrlich said, was the idea that when going into retail, everyone should be treated as a friend. He said the ship aspect derived from wanting to include a nautical theme as part of the first store opening on the shores of Lake Erie.
What began as a convenience store and fueling station evolved five years ago when the company decided to move the brand to a food-focused concept. As a result, they rolled out the FriendShip Kitchen model, which was predicated on a larger emphasis on food service.
“In our minds, we built a restaurant that happens to sell fuel and convenience items, as opposed to a convenience store that might sell some food,” Ehrlich said. “We turned the model on its head.”
Prior to the expansion into central Ohio, FriendShip’s locations were exclusive to northern Ohio, stretching from Toledo to Cleveland. Ehrlich said the time was right to expand south into central Ohio because the company had perfected the FriendShip Kitchen model.
Recently, Sheetz has announced two locations in Delaware, one of which will be just up the road from FriendShip Kitchen. Ehrlich called them the pioneers for bringing food opportunities to convenience stores. While he said he certainly respects Sheetz and called them a “great competitor,” Ehrlich said the difference between the two companies is that FriendShip Kitchen simply does things differently.
“They’re going to do touchscreen ordering and you might wait a while,” Ehrlich said. “We’re focused on a smaller set of products that we can produce at a super high quality and get you in and out very quickly. It’s just a different business model … Our focus is a lot more narrow and more about speed.”
During the pandemic, Ehrlich said the spacious interior of the store is an added bonus for customers, something older convenience stores often can’t offer. Bathrooms are entirely touchless as well, providing another layer of safety for customers.
“I think what they’re going to find is they’re going to be welcomed as if they’re friends coming into our home,” Ehrlich said of what keeps customers returning. “And we’re going to make sure that everything is ready so that every visit is perfect. The food is going to be ready, our hosts are going to be smiling and welcoming.
“(Customers) are going to get in and they’re going to get out quickly, and they’re going to notice that the store has the most modern amenities and just a clean, friendly, upscale environment that they’re probably not used to with convenience stores. And I think that’s because our focus was on building a restaurant as the lead for this location and this brand,” he added.
With the Lewis Center location up and running since June, Ehrlich said a second location in central Ohio has been selected. Construction on a Marysville location should begin later this year or earlier next year.
To learn more about all that FriendShip Kitchen offers, visit www.friendshipstores.com.