Foods & Culinary

Do you need a bottle of natural wine? The gas station got you covered.

My father is an old school character who arrives four hours before departure for a domestic flight from Miami to New York. All of his bills are paid by check, which he delivers in person. And of course, he is a firm believer in going to the gas station to pay the clerk directly before filling his tank with gas, and has no faith in the card machines that the pumps issue. When I was at home in Miami a few months ago, he didn’t even have to ask before I walked to the cell phone on Coral Way and 32nd Avenue to ask the clerk to fill us up at number four.

But when I opened the door, I had to wait a moment to marvel at the wine collection that lined the metal racks inside. On the shelves, next to six-packs of Corona Light and local plantain chips, were the wines I sold in the small, nature-oriented New York wine shop where I worked. Fi in Los Alamos, California; Martha Stoumen’s juicy Post Flirt. I wasn’t expecting to see these wines in this residential Miami neighborhood mostly known for a nearby Hooters and the perennial Cuban restaurant Sergio’s, let alone Mendez Fuel.

Gas stations are designed to get us out of a number of difficult situations: air when your tires are flat; Bathroom and tampons when you need bathroom and tampons; crispy chicharrones gradually lose their shine as the street snacks you packaged start; A handy – albeit unwieldy – vacuum for when your homemade trail mix flies anywhere. In some cities, you can buy well-curated craft beer offerings and bottles of wine from small producers at the local gas station on your way home or for dinner with a friend.

Mendez Fuel is a Miami-based chain of mobile stations where customers are just as likely to browse wine and beer shelves as they are filling their tanks. Michael Mendez bought the stations from a close friend twelve years ago. He called his brother Andrew Mendez to see if he was interested in working together on the new project. Andrew was to take over the mobile location on 32 Avenue, as it was a bit far from the other three and the most inconvenient for Michael to get to. At the time, Andrew was just out of college and was staying on his parents’ couch. “Yeah, I’m down,” Andrew says to his brother.

“You just know we’re starting from below,” said Michael.

About a year after starting their new project, Andrew also took on the beer orders at the other three Mendez Fuel locations. He recalls that there were pretty standard options like Heineken and Stella; The trusted brands that you can find in every corner store. But after a few months working with a beer salesman introducing Andrew to slightly lesser-known beers like Chimay, Lagunitas and Blue Moon, the store’s shelves began to change. “I’m 24 years old and I remember thinking it was just so cool, all these new beers,” he says.

In 2012 the year Craft beer really started to boom In cities like Miami, Andrew started putting craft brews on the shelves. He started with beers from Funky Buddha, a brewery in Oakland Park, Florida. “Then I started finding more dealerships, finding out who’s got what, and going from there,” he says.

Soon all four Mendez Fuel locations were craft beer destinations in Miami, and on May 5, 2014, they cemented that status by adding growlers – the airtight mugs that allow you to easily move draft beer from one place to another. According to Andrew, no one in the area – gas station or not – was doing growlers at the time. “That really helped,” he says. “You’re ahead of the game.”

By the end of the year, the craft beer and growler business flourished at all of Mendez Fuel’s outposts. Finally, Mendez Fuel even added his own special warehouse a line label beer that Miami’s The Tank Brewing Co. helped them make. And when the pandemic hit Miami last year, Andrew said the beverage business only got busier.

In the weeks and months surrounding the initial COVID-19 lockdowns, Mendez Fuel was inundated with online beer and wine orders from people stuck at home. Unlike beer, at the time, according to Andrew Mendez, wine choices were pretty straightforward: Mondavi, Josh, Woodbridge; “Nothing crazy,” he says. Around the same time Andrew had started hearing about natural wine from some friends, and when the inquiries for wine began to arise, he saw an opportunity to pay much more attention to the wine selection at Mendez Fuel. Just like with beer all those years ago, Andrew began to reach out to natural wine merchants and see what was available. “Today we’ve got to the point where I had to leave my craft beer department to make more room for natural wine,” he says.

It speaks for the steady rise in popularity and availability of natural wine Across cities in the USA, mainly driven by one woman: Jenny Lefcourt, who started importing natural wines Jenny & François selection But while natural wine has had a developed presence in New York for nearly two decades and has been widespread in Los Angeles and San Francisco for many years, it is still fairly nascent in other major cities like Miami, Dallas, Phoenix, USA. and Philadelphia.

Five years ago, natural wines hit the shelves at Sunrise Mini Mart – a gas station supermarket in Austin, the Crestview district in Texas, which Eater Austin calls it one of the best wine shops in town. It’s all the work of manager Sam Rozani who, like Andrew Mendez, started changing the usual convenience store merchandise by offering craft beers. Unlike Andrew Mendez, however, Rozani didn’t add natural and organic wines due to word of mouth or customer demand. he just wanted to try some of it himself.

“The thing is, the best place to buy natural wine is in my store because I don’t have to pay retail prices,” says Rozani. He started ordering natural wine in small quantities; For example, he would buy half a case of wine, open a bottle for himself, and then sell the remaining bottles at sunrise. That way, he could also talk about the nuances in a bottle of Broc Cellars’ Love Red when a customer walks in and asks for it. These same customers these days know they need to ask Rozani what he’s been drinking lately, confident that he will lead them in the right direction.

“I tell them the region I’m really in or something I recently liked and they usually say, ‘Man, I haven’t had it, I want to try’ and that just opens things up” he says. The same applies if someone asks about the bichi pét-nat and sees that someone is drinking on Instagram. “I’ll say ‘Hey you know what? I don’t have a Bichi right now, but I have something else you might like, it’s from the Canary Islands. “

It makes for a positive customer experience, says Rozani; People know that they will learn something by visiting one of its four stores. Rozani tried to channel this expertise into the EU Retail website It launched in March 2021 in response to demand from customers who either moved away from Austin during the pandemic or wanted to send wine to loved ones in Austin. Now you can order your wine and beer from Sunrise without ever having to go to the gas station.

Just a year after offering natural wine at Mendez Fuel at 32 Avenue, Andrew Mendez has a growing fan base, especially with younger customers. “There’s a constant influx of people in their late 20s and 30s looking for natural wine at the gas station,” he says. Even so, he regularly gets gas-seeking customers who come in and are surprised or curious about the seemingly non-traditional wines that Mendez Fuel is selling.

Andrew Mendez believes that having a personal feeling makes his regular customers return to a mobile station in the corner to buy their wine somewhere like Total Wine or Publix, even when prices are $ 1 or $ 2 higher than other retailers . “When I’m in the store I’ll try to help you as best I can,” he says. While he doesn’t say he’s an expert, it’s Andrew Mendez, officially Mendez Fuel’s Vice President of Operations, who does all of the wine buying. So when a customer asks for a bottle, they have the answers. He tells me he’s lucky enough to have developed a report with a number of small natural wine merchants like Arash Selects who can sell him three bottles so he can see them move before committing to a case.

As these bottles, made in small quantities, go on sale and the news about natural wine continues to spread, their availability should only continue to increase. The reason Rozani sold out of this bichi pét-nat is because he can only buy one suitcase these days compared to the five he got earlier. The rest goes to nearby restaurants or other shops in the area. Just three years ago it was difficult to find wines from Californian winemakers Scribe and Les Lunes or Maryland’s Old Westminster outside of New York City. If there are signs that these wines are reaching the mainstream, now you can find them at a gas station – and that’s something worth roasting.

Naya Cheyenne is a Miami-based multimedia illustrator and designer from Brooklyn.

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