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North Hills Monthly

Doing Well by Doing Good: American Natural Combines Convenience with Social Conscience

Mar 30, 2020 11:40AM ● By Jennifer Monahan

Photo by Dena Koenig Photography

People rarely associate the words “healthy,” “fresh” or “sustainable” with their local convenience store or gas station. Those people have yet to experience American Natural.

A unique concept among its competitors, American Natural offers fuel for bodies and cars—with a twist. Founder and CEO Jennifer Pomerantz is committed to merging the traditional convenience store business model with her passion for quality, flexibility and social responsibility.

American Natural provides both traditional fuel (gasoline and diesel) and alternative fuels (including compressed natural gas) at its retail locations in the North Hills. The eateries at each site offer an impressive array of snacks, fresh prepared foods and premier barista programs that will surprise customers accustomed to finding bags of LAY'S® potato chips and peanut M&M'S®—although American Natural carries those traditional items, as well.

“The way people eat has evolved,” Pomerantz said. “People want healthier options and many are trying to eat healthy while working within the constraints of food allergies for themselves or their families.” At the same time, she explained, people still want to indulge sometimes. 

Instead of cramped aisles rife with processed foods, American Natural stores feature open-concept designs and space that is clean, comfortable and welcoming. Pomerantz described the feel as an extension of someone’s living room or conference room. The seating area has tables where customers can enjoy a freshly made sandwich or salad and plug in their laptops, along with free Wi-Fi.

In addition to conventional convenience store fare, American Natural offers a wide array of items that look like they belong at Panera or Whole Foods. Items on the hot and cold “grab and go” menu are made fresh on site every two hours. Eatery items include salads, pizza and hand-crafted sandwiches. Their barista-quality coffee service features matcha, chai tea and espresso lattes, sourced from Tupelo Honey Teas and Zeke’s Coffee.

In the marketplace area, every snack section has gluten-free options. American Natural also has a variety of dairy-free and nut-free selections in both its packaged and fresh foods. The attention to all kinds of food sensitivities is intentional and very much a part of the ethos at American Natural.

“People are running around like crazy, and food can be such a stress point,” Pomerantz said. “We strive to offer balance: the ability to both achieve healthier eating as well as enjoy indulgence all in one place. We strive to provide high quality food and beverages for the community.”

One way American Natural achieves that quality is by paying attention to where their food comes from. Sustainability is a core philosophy of the organization, and Pomerantz sources products from a variety of local vendors. Speckled Hen Chocolate Company (Saxonburg), Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream (Pittsburgh), Natrona Bottling Company (Natrona Heights), the aforementioned Zeke’s Coffee (East Liberty) and Tupelo Honey Teas (Millvale) and Thoma Meat Market (Saxonburg) are just some area companies whose products are featured.

“We are community-focused,” Pomerantz said. 

Another aspect of that focus is American Natural’s commitment to the people in the communities it serves. According to Pomerantz, the gathering space is utilized by book clubs, booster clubs, knitting clubs, educational events, students’ study groups and individuals just meeting up with a friend for a drink or a snack.  

In addition to barista service, snacks and meals, the Sewickley location offers beer and wine by the glass or to go, and the newly opened Cranberry/Marshall Township location at 940 Sheraton Drive plans to do the same by the end of April.

Pomerantz said American Natural welcomes all such uses by the community and that providing a safe space for these groups is part of the organization’s DNA. As one example, American Natural celebrated its recent Cranberry Township area grand opening with a casino night fundraiser to support Community Kitchen PGH. They also sponsor local high school sports and activities.

Though not a native of Pittsburgh, Pomerantz chose it for her headquarters because she fell in love with the Steel City while traveling for business. After a career in global investment management across energy and c-stores, she was inspired to create American Natural as a single-stop offering for food and fuel.

Providing affordable alternatives—whether in fuel or food—has been one key to the company’s success. 

Founded in 2012, American Natural now has wholesale fuel locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and New York, and employs more than 300 people. Its hybrid eatery-convenience stores are a more recent development. Since mid-2016, American Natural has opened these unique destinations in Harmarville, Sewickley, Mars, Gibsonia, Valencia and now Marshall Township, on the border of Cranberry.

Pomerantz attributes some of American Natural’s achievement to its flexibility. Craving a quick candy bar? In the mood for a light, healthy lunch on site? Want to grab a sandwich fast or get a matcha or chai latte while you fill up the car on your way to work? American Natural has it.

“Customers enjoy our customization, quality and great local products,” Pomerantz said, “We offer all of that. We listen to our customers and we enjoy always learning from them.”

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