CAMP POINT, Ill. -- A Camp Point convenience store has become the town's unlikely go-to diner.
Dianna Denovchek became manager of the Korner Kwik Stop three years ago. At the time, the gas station and convenience store had just begun selling fried chicken, but the prospect of procuring hot meals from the store had not become particularly popular.
"I had done a lot of catering and different things before," Denovchek said. "When I came out here, (co-owner Danny Veihl) said we need to get something going."
The leniency and open-mindedness of co-owners Veihl and Kenny Holtschlag afforded Denovchek the opportunity to experiment with the business. As Denovchek recalls, it all began with the 2016 Super Bowl, for which she cooked 2,800 hot wings.
"We had no idea how many people were coming," she said. "So we're taking these orders all day. We're also breading and cutting our own boneless wings and saucing all of them. We ended up doing it."
The sudden, unexpected onslaught of orders gave credibility to Denovchek's dream of serving full dinners in the store.
"People were coming from everywhere to eat here," she said. "It makes me cry because it's hard work, but the payoff is huge. It's not about money; it's about accomplishment."
The homemade meals served daily at the Korner Kwik Stop are particularly important to Denovchek because they are her way of paying homage to her late mother.
"My mom was a good cook, and I use all of her recipes here," she said, brushing tears from her eyes. "I go home at night, and when I lay down, I always say, 'Thanks, Mom.' "
After the hot meals scored with patrons, Denovchek hoped the Korner Kwik Stop might win the Camp Point Area Business Association's Most Improved Business award. When she found out the store had been nominated for Business of the Year, she became less enthusiastic.
"I thought, 'We'll never get it, not up against all these grain companies,'" Denovchek said. "Well ... yes we did."
The Business of the Year plaque is now proudly displayed near the small bench placed in a corner to allow patrons a place to sit while eating.
Without fail, at least three coffee groups cycle in and out each day before the lunch rush begins.
"This morning when I counted, there were 15," Denovchek said of one of the groups that showed up Tuesday morning. "We don't even really have enough chairs. They like it -- small, cramped or not -- they don't care."
Additional seating has been put in a small outlying building known as the Korner Kwik Panther Pit on the edge of the property. Named for the many panther paw wall decals hung inside in honor of the Central High School sports teams, the Panther Pit is air-conditioned and has interior and exterior seating.
The food might be best described as high end on a budget. For Valentine's Day, the store served a prime rib dinner, for Fat Tuesday in 2016, a jambalaya. The most expensive meal, the tenderloin, is $8.25.
"It doesn't just have to be a gas station, right?" Denovchek said. "Don't you always look for the dive that has a bunch of cars at it? You know they have good food."