What can’t be seen from the outside of the Shell Gas Station across from the Mitchell Physics Building is the small corridor that winds to the back, lined with shelves of snacks and spices that many Texas A&M students consider indispensable.
The Shell Gas Station, known to Indian students simply as “Shell,” houses one of the two Indian markets in the Bryan-College Station area. The store has become an important staple in the Indian community as a source of Indian products, both cooking ingredients and microwavable meals alike. The gas station also serves a role as a sponsor for the biggest Indian student organization at A&M, the Indian Graduate Student Association (IGSA).
Namitha Shreenatha, management information systems graduate student from Bangalore, India, makes trips to the store twice per week to buy mostly chapatis and parathas, Indian flatbreads she said are difficult to make at home. Shreenatha said she knew about Shell even before arriving at A&M.
“All of my seniors here who I kept in touch with said this was the place where we were told we would get all the Indian food,” Shreenatha said. “So I knew about this when I had pretty much got my admit.”
Rohit Kongari, biochemistry Ph.D. candidate from Hyderabad, India, said one of the Shell’s most valuable attributes is its accessible location on Northgate.
“The most basic thing is first of all, having all the Indian groceries in a place close enough to campus,” Kongari said. “Many Indian students when they first come here, they are not going to have a vehicle. Having an Indian grocery store at a walkable distance makes a huge, huge difference.”
Kongari said he arrived at A&M in the fall of 2010, the same year the Indian Graduate Student Association (IGSA) was founded. Kongari, who has been involved in IGSA over the years, said the Shell has always been supportive of the organization through providing food for events and sometimes financial sponsorship.
Visaksacatnan, India native Pranathi Gompa, construction management graduate student and president of IGSA, said her organization directs new Indian students specifically to the Shell for Indian products.
“We cater to most of the Indian students needs, and one of the basic needs is food,” Gompa said. “Though we kind of get things from HEB and Wal-Mart, but there are very specific things that Indian students want, in terms of masalas or in terms of greens, or anything like that.”
Not only does the Shell provide important Indian cooking ingredients, but Gompa said one of the best things they carry are frozen microwavable Indian meals. These are especially important considering most of Shell’s customers are college students who don’t always have time to cook, she said.
“It has a lot of Indian ready to eat food, like two minute microwavable kind of food, and it’s open till late in the night,” Gompa said. “So often students, when they are going to college, they just grab it and go and put it in the microwave, or coming back from college late in the night.”
Although the majority of products that the Shell provides are from India, the store also plays a role in the lives of Pakistani students, according to Muzzamil Bashir, industrial engineering graduate student.
Bashir is from Lahore and is also a member of the Pakistani Student Association (PSA). The Shell also helps sponsor some of PSA’s events, according to Bashir.
Bashir said although Pakistani products at Shell are the minority, the store is still the best option for finding Pakistani food for many Pakistani students.
“The food [here at the Shell] is not exactly how I would like it to be, but I mean given the circumstances I would rather eat this than other food,” Bashir said.