Nazia Afzal photo by Zachary Linhares

Olivette Station is serving delicious Pakistani food in an unassuming gas station in St. Louis County

You know something’s up. There’s a whisk hanging on a pegboard, and a couple of slotted spoons. The oil in the multi-gallon vessel under the counter can’t possibly be motor oil. That would be the brownish side of black; this one’s yellow leaning gold. It’s cooking oil, and those things – over there where the pliers and wrenches should be – are cooking tools.

Welcome to Olivette Station, the best alternative use of space we know, located at 9680 Olive Blvd. in St. Louis County. Nazia Afzal and husband, Zaeem Riaz, came from the city of Chichawatni in Pakistan in 2014. Shortly afterward, she purchased Olivette Station with her brother Qamar Zaman. “But we weren’t mechanics,” Afzal said, and added that the mechanic they did hire ended up making off with the tools. “He stole from us. He put us out of business.”

The samosa chaat is made with two samosas filled with spiced potatoes and peas then topped with shredded cabbage, onion, cilantro, chana masala, greens and tamarind chutney. // photo by Zachary Linhares


But now, Afzal is in a red apron. One minute she’s issuing lottery tickets, the next she’s dipping back to her makeshift kitchenette to assemble something that looks utterly delicious. It’s samosa chana chaat, a vegetable samosa smothered with chana (chickpea curry), finely chopped tomato, onion, jalapeno and cilantro, and dressed with raita. That’s when, even though you’ve just had your lunch, you feel like another. And after you’ve paid the ridiculously reasonable $8.99 for this food that looks like a feast, you hurry to a side room you spotted when you came in and settle yourself at a retro, lemon-yellow table. To be clear, this is an unofficial seating area. Afzal explains that all menu items must be ordered to go because of county rules concerning food and gas stations. She looks sad. “I could do so much better, so much more if I had a full restaurant,” she said.

Afzal hasn’t always been a chef. For 12 years before leaving Pakistan, she worked as a high school biology and computer science teacher. She comes by her food experience the best way – by cooking for grandparents and parents, uncles and aunts, siblings and cousins; and also the farmers who operated her family’s dairy farm. “I can do two things: teach and cook,” she said. But if “making do” is a mark of artistry – if producing samosas, chicken tikka masala, chana masala and basmati rice from a couple of slow cookers and a fancy deep fryer with a built-in fire extinguisher – then Afzal is an artist as well. 


The chana masala is a chickpea curry that is served with your choice of either basmati rice or naan. // photo by Zachary Linhares


While Afzal and her brother are 50/50 owners of the Olivette BP, she owns a second BP (on Big Bend Boulevard) with her husband. As she talks about these businesses, assembling as she does so that lovely plate of food, it’s hard not to wonder what on earth brought her here. What made her leave the wheat and rice plains, the mango and orange orchards of the Punjabi region (which traverses both Pakistan and India) for a shopping strip in St. Louis County? “We sold everything to come,” she said. “Better opportunity. America is a beautiful country.”

Olivette Station also serves breakfast items like a veggie omelet with a butter tortilla, and a sausage sandwich with egg. Various renditions of crispy fried chicken also feature on the menu.

For more great gas station food, check out this roundup of three under-the-radar restaurants inside gas stations around St. Louis.