The Karmic Kitchen

Annalakshmi brings karmic dining to San Francisco; a convenience store groupie attends the "University of 7-Eleven."

"At some point," proclaims 7-Eleven CEO Jim Keyes, "we stopped thinking of ourselves as food stores and started thinking of ourselves as beef jerky stores." The crowd of hundreds roars until Keyes spots a beef-jerky magnate lurking in the rear. "OK, so beef jerky is a food."

Damn right it is, nod the throngs. But we can't deny Keyes his vision: remaking the chain into a dining destination that shoppers ideally duck into a couple of times a week. In Dog Bites (and our friend), the company has found true believers. So when our press credentials score us an afternoon at the "University of 7-Eleven" shindig at the Moscone Center, we are there, ready to marvel that the concoction spurting from the "cappuccino" machine really does taste just like French toast. Perhaps the caffeine is starting to take hold.

Soon we are careening toward an expansive spread that beckons like the world's most delicious convenience store- catered cocktail party. We're embraced by the press maven, possibly the only person on Earth whose 7-Eleven fandom eclipses ours. She begins shoving increasingly inventive sandwiches into our hands -- a blur of walnut wheat bread and havarti cheese and curry tortillas. We wash them down with a Big Gulp root beer float, in a cup that sends vanilla ice cream torpedoing into a froth of sugary goodness. We chase that with an energy drink the salesman claims is four times as potent as Red Bull. "I wonder if we'll feel energized?" asks our fellow groupie.

"University of 7-Eleven" is where vendors showcase new wares and the chain educates employees about its latest brews. Apparently, the snack trend of the moment is energy. Assuming we're store managers, the pushers offer us every energy snack in the house. Being courteous Southern gals, we ingest them all.

Maybe it was the citrus grape Slurpee (sucked through a Darth Vader head) followed by the energy breath strips, but by the time we get to the Diesel bars, which claim something like 10 times the kick of Red Bull, we are floating. We stare longingly at the corn nuts, wondering if they, too, can make our hands shake, then chug a Dixie cup of Budweiser's B to the E.

Lightheaded, we stumble in search of something to take the edge off. Wine? Taquitos? King's Hawaiian Sweet Rolls? But we're spotted by the press escort, who offers to introduce us to the head of 7-Eleven's coffee program. Normally, we might muster some intelligent questions -- like, is it true that pots never sit on the warmers for more than 20 minutes? Now we can barely suppress the giggles long enough to profess our devotion to the cinnamon flavor. Pegged as loyalists, we get talked into trying some gingersnap. As we stare into the shot glass-size samples, too bewildered to negotiate appropriate sugar and cream ratios, the man in the booth offers us full-size cups. We take them.

Outside, we hail a cab in a haze, and back at the office, we type like demons and wonder if co-workers can hear our hearts pounding. That night, neither Dog Bites nor our colleague even begins to get tired until 3 a.m. Yet, the next day, we wake up oddly refreshed. Thank heaven for 7-Eleven. (Nancy Einhart)

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