Fueled by a love of vintage cars and inspired by remnants of a 1960s-style gas station, Ben and Lindy Loose opened Gas Full Service Restaurant in February 2011. The eatery, located on Anastasia Boulevard in St. Augustine, serves what Chef Ben said is his take on the comfort foods he grew up cooking.
“I’ve had a bunch of good chefs that I’ve worked under—my mom, my grandmothers—they all cooked and baked, so I’m very on-the-job trained,” he told Folio Weekly.
Open-faced sandwiches, hamburgers, locally sourced fish and some vegetarian offerings have always been on the menu alongside Ben’s childhood favorites. The comfort-food items vary, but regulars have seen meatloaf, grilled cheese and a current spin on the classic chicken pot pie. Imagine a large fried chicken breast with the first wing joint still attached, served over pot-pie gravy, a house-made buttermilk biscuit and mashed potatoes. Ben’s chicken pot pie sounds like a warm hug on a cold winter day, but he sells plenty on scorching, sunny days, too.
“We sold a lot of those over the summer,” Ben said. “I was like, ‘God, it’s so hot.’ I don’t know how anybody could eat this … but they do.”
Though the Looses started the restaurant with another couple, they have since taken on complete ownership, making it a true family affair. The couple’s two sons, Davis, 18, and Jessie, 15, both work in the restaurant.
“The only way to get family time is if you come to work,” Lindy said.
Though the couple thinks Jessie might take up the restaurateur mantel, Davis has aspirations of making it big in the music industry. His honky-tonk band, Davis and the Loose Cannons, just finished recording its debut album, and can be seen playing at various venues around St. Augustine.
Jessie attends high school and is also enrolled in the culinary program at First Coast Technical College. Like his father, he spends a lot of time in the kitchen. Lindy pointed to a professionally plated flank steak and said, “He can make that dish, and he’s in the 10th grade.”
Marinated in pineapple, ginger and tamari, the Island Flank Steak is grilled to temperature, served over black beans and rice, topped with pickled red onion and garnished with a cilantro lime aioli. The Caribbean-inspired creation is one of Gas Full Service Restaurant’s signature entrees, which change frequently. By far, however, the restaurant’s most popular item is a hamburger—not just any hamburger, but a three-time national television-featured and 2019 Folio Weekly Best of Saint Augustine-winning hamburger. The beef is ground fresh daily, and the artisan buns are made fresh daily.
It’s all done in-house, too. When the restaurant opened, Ben sourced artisan breads from a bakery in downtown St. Augustine. Unfortunately, the bakery closed, and he was left wondering how he could possibly get the quality bread his customers were used to.
“I had built a relationship with the baker,” he explained, “so I called and asked if he would be interested in coming over and teaching me how to make the bread. He agreed to help me out.” Today, not only is all the bread made in house, it’s made “in a very primitive fashion.”
“It’s literally handmade,” Ben said. “I don’t have a large mixer; we mix the bread dough with our hands.”
This attention to detail and a desire for perfection immediately impressed hungry locals, but it wasn’t long before Hollywood came calling. In 2015, Gas Full Service Restaurant’s Jalapeno Popper Burger was featured on the premiere episode of the Cooking Channel’s Junk Food Flip. In addition to popularizing the Jalapeno Popper Burger and ensuring its inclusion on the menu forever, the television show introduced the Looses to host Bobby Deen, who also included Ben’s burgers on his Cooking Channel show, Taking the Guilty Out of Guilty Pleasures.
“Bobby Deen really kind of fell in love with us and our family,” said Lindy. “You know, two boys in a restaurant—kind of similar to his story.”
In 2017, the Food Network asked Ben to supersize his specialty for its Ginormous Food program. The Full Tank, created especially for the show was a three-pound sandwich on an eight-inch bun, fully loaded with beef burgers, a deep-fried serving of pulled pork and a patty of fried cheese.
“Yeah, it was a trick for the kitchen,” Ben said. “But I’m not telling a national food show ‘no.’”
Though the immediate exposure was invaluable in terms, Ben said working with the television programs was an investment of time and energy that keeps giving back.
“You can always tell when the episodes re-air,” he said. “Everybody that comes in wants a Jalapeno Popper Burger, and I’m like, ‘I didn’t get the email!’”