Fast Food at Circle K
Twenty-four pop spigots, and an in-house kitchen
From the April, 2019 issue
"The huge change is the food," says Peter Mahan, manager of the Circle K on the corner of Stadium and Packard. After three years of controversy, compromise, and construction, the convenience store/gas station reopened in early February. It's part of ongoing expansion and improvement efforts in Michigan by Quebec-based Alimenation Couche-Tard, which has about 16,000 stores in North America, Europe, and Asia.
The new interior is simple and sleek: lots of shiny displays and smooth gray surfaces with bright blue accents. Mahan says the store's expansion let them bring in larger selections of drinks, packaged snacks, and ice cream--"which is very important in this neighborhood. Students love it."
Other additions include a walk-in beer cooler, two Polar Pop fountains with twenty-four soda choices, and a "f'real" machine that creates milkshakes and smoothies from prefrozen cups. But he's most excited about the on-site kitchen, which supplies fresh, house-made sub sandwiches, burritos, stromboli roll-ups, and pizza.
The store's coffee machines get their own little area. Mahan specifies a bean flavor on a touch pad and selects an option to leave room for cream. Immediately, a small batch of whole beans from the clear canister above is sucked downward and ground up, and coffee begins streaming out below. "It goes straight from the bean to your cup," says Mahan. "It can't get any fresher than that!"
Mahan, a sixty-five-year-old with eight grandchildren ("seven boys!"), worked as a banker in Detroit for over thirty years before he began "retirement" as a manager of the previous Circle K on the corner in 2006. "The bank sold to a different company, and so a lot of people lost their jobs," he says. "I was close enough to retiring that I just retired and got into a customer service job because I love customer service. It's a good job. It's a lot of fun!"
He left Ann Arbor in 2010 to manage other Michigan stores but fought to come back after the renovation: "I
basically had to interview to get this store, even though I had thirteen years with Circle K," he says. He's glad he did, because he recognized--and was recognized by--many of the same regulars he knew years ago.
Mahan missed the intense politicking that shaped the rebuild. When Circle K and Quatro Construction originally proposed redevelopment of the 1950s-era site, neighbors complained the plan exposed their yards to noise pollution and eyesores. Over the next year, the residents and developers reached a surprisingly friendly compromise. The final plans, approved in 2017, used the back of the new store building and some strategically placed trees and fencing to shield the neighbors from the worst of the inconveniences of a busy gas station parking lot.
To the frustration of both neighbors and developers, the construction dragged on for over a year. "There were some delays for various reasons," Mahan says. "I'm certainly not going to point any fingers, but construction, permits, the city, the state--it was just various things. And then Bruce, our Frito-Lay guy, he kind of delayed things too," Mahan says teasingly. Bruce, who's stocking bags of chips, chuckles as he walks by.
Mahan still wants to get in touch with Hollis Smith, the retired firefighter who sold summer vegetables out of a cart on the Circle K lot for many years. "He'll probably find you!" interjects Bruce.
Asked if he'll ever move on to a new retirement, Mahan smiles and shakes his head: "I'm here for the duration," he says. "I'm not going anywhere!"
Circle K, 1420 E. Stadium Blvd. (734) 997-9506. Open 24 hrs. circlek.com
[Originally published in April, 2019.]
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