Customers line up at the Country Club Bakery in Fairmont, West Virginia, for pepperoni rolls. They're just a stick of pepperoni baked in a hoagie-sized roll. But West Virginians have strong feelings about them.
"Every time you'd drive by here, you could smell them, and that smell would just bring you right into the parking lot," says Larry Carr, who grew up in Fairmont. He says the most important thing about the Country Club Bakery is that it uses thick pieces of pepperoni in its rolls.
"A lot of the other bakeries use slices of pepperoni," he says. "I think the sticks are much better."
Legend is that pepperoni rolls were invented for coal miners to take underground. You can get them all over West Virginia, even in convenience stores like Sheetz. But a few weeks ago, Sheetz decided to stock a single brand of pepperoni rolls from out of state, instead of sourcing from smaller West Virginia bakeries.
Dennis Mazza owns one of the bakeries that's been selling pepperoni rolls to Sheetz. On Facebook, he posted the news that Sheetz had decided to go with an out-of-state bakery. "In no way ever did I tell anyone to boycott Sheetz," he says. "I just said we would never sell to Sheetz as of Aug 3rd. It just went viral.
"It wasn't just about our bakery. It was about the pepperoni roll in general," he says.
On Facebook and Twitter, angry customers called for a boycott of Sheetz. They wrote things like: "Love your stores, but right is right."
Ryan Sheetz is a spokesperson for his family's Pennsylvania-based business. "We knew that it was a passionate item," he says. "So we knew that we would get some feedback. I don't think anyone could have anticipated the level of feedback that we got."
Last week, Sheetz reversed its decision. It's found a West Virginia bakery that can supply all its West Virginia stores with proper pepperoni rolls — Home Industries Bakery in Clarksburg. And yes, its pepperoni rolls have pepperoni sticks, not slices.
This story has been updated.