What's so great about Wawa? Grab a hoagie, here's everything you need to know
It's not that often when people plan to go out to eat at a convenience store.
That happens at Wawa stores. A lot.
The word "cult" gets thrown around a lot for some chains with passionate fans. In-and-Out Burger. Buc-ee's. Wawa. Let's go with "enthusiasts" instead. In some areas, the local Wawa becomes the place to hang out. People have gotten married at a Wawa. There are songs about it. People get tattoos. Whenever a new location opens, teeming crowds gather for a near-Mardi Gras experience, if the French Quarter had a bank of gas stations in the middle.
"We are always grateful and treasure these moments more than anything – from customers lining up to be first in the door of a brand new store, or traveling to every store across a state – these are among the special moments and stories that our associates inspire," said Wawa Public Relations manager Lori Bruce.
2022 marked the 10th anniversary of this Pennsylvania-based chain's arrival in Florida, and they have big plans to keep expanding in the state.
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So what is a Wawa, and why are people so gaga over it?
What is Wawa? Why is Wawa famous?
Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, a Wawa offers all the things you'd expect from a convenience store — snacks, lottery tickets, drinks, tobacco, gas (at most locations), etc. — but they also offer a larger variety of fresh food than most fast-food restaurants such as their made-to-order, fan-favorite hoagies and the hot breakfast "Sizzli" sandwiches. More on all that later.
Wawas also are famous for customer service, scrupulously clean bathrooms, decent gas prices, free air for your tires and no-charge ATMs. They're a comforting presence for travelers and a community hub for neighborhoods. And in 2022 Forbes ranked them #12 in their Halo 100 list of brands that consumers love.
What does "Wawa" mean? What is Wawa short for?
"Wawa" is an Ojibwe Native American word that translates, more or less, as “Canada goose." It's also the name of the town where this version of the company developed and where the corporate offices still reside. That's also why there's a goose on the company's corporate logo.
It's pronounced to rhyme with "saw-saw," and the second w is never capitalized.
How did Wawa get started?
As a successful iron foundry in New Jersey in 1803, in fact. But by the late 1800s the Wood family was spending a lot of time vacationing around Philadelphia and got to like the rural areas. George Wood, who was interested in dairy farming, bought a red-roofed Victorian home in Wawa, PA, and the Wood family went into the dairy processing business promising safe and certified-sanitary milk.
That promise, at a time when safe milk was hard to come by, and their later milk delivery service, made them hugely successful right up to the 1950s and 1960s when the proliferation of grocery stores and corner markets undercut delivery. So the family pivoted and George's grandson Grahame Wood opened the first Wawa Food Market in 1964.
They've grown a bit, since then.
Where was the first Wawa store in Florida?
The first Wawa in Florida opened on July 18, 2012, in Orlando, across from SeaWorld.
How many Wawas are there in Florida?
According to Wawa, they'll be opening their 250th location in the state in South Florida by the end of February. That means about 25% of all the Wawa locations are here, with nearly 20 more listed as opening in 2023 on their "coming soon" page. Wawa employs nearly 10,000 associates across the state.
Wawa's Florida stores are mostly in the southwest, across central Florida and up and down the east coast, but in 2021 Wawa announced plans to open up to 40 new stores around Pensacola, Panama City and Tallahassee (along with Mobile, Alabama) over the next 8-10 years.
“Over the years, we’ve been delighted to hear from so many people from so many areas, who are interested in having a Wawa closer to home. We couldn’t be more excited to bring Wawa’s one-of-a-kind brand and offering to these new markets in the near future,” said John Poplawski, Vice President of Real Estate for Wawa.
There are nearly 1,000 Wawa stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Florida, and Washington, D.C.
What's so great about Wawa's hoagies?
Named America's favorite sandwich shop in a 2018 survey, Wawa may be the only company that can rival Publix in Florida for devoted big-sandwich fans.
Wawa started selling made-to-order sandwiches, including hoagies, in 1972. In a 2017 review, Business Insider reporters Kate Taylor and Hollis Johnson described the hoagies like so:
"The humble hoagie is one of the main attractions at Wawa, and it does not disappoint," they wrote. "Served warm and well-toasted, with melty mozzarella and spongy yet hardy bread, the meatball hoagie is on the same level of quality as your favorite local deli."
Mostly it's the level of customization and good ingredients, and it's easy to order because Wawa was one of the first places to use self-serve, touch-screen menus. Step up to an ordering kiosk and look over the hot and cold possibilities. Meatball, cheesesteak, tuna salad, different kinds of chicken, pulled pork, veggie, even brisket and more, plus your favorite fixings.
Place your order, pay at the register, get your sandwich. There will be a bit of a wait, depending on how busy they are, but no more than, say, Firehouse Subs.
Fun fact: According to Wawa, the hoagie Floridians hunger for the most is a Toasted Cheese Steak Classic. Since opening their first store here, Wawa has sold enough hoagies "to stretch between Jacksonville and Miami more than eight times," Bruce said.
What else can I order at a Wawa?
It may take some time to go over your options. Wawa offers a wide array of prepackaged food and breakfast pastries, all fresh and relatively inexpensive. The drinks section — most of one wall — offers lots of different coffee, latte, chai tea, espresso, lemonade and soft drink choices. (Their coffee is 100% sustainably sourced through the Rainforest Alliance.)
This could be us but you're not a coffee person 🙃 pic.twitter.com/dehjEc99EV
— Wawa (@Wawa) April 17, 2022
But if you're looking for something other than a hoagie, for some reason, the kiosk has you covered. Paninis, quesadillas, chalupas and more. Sandwiches stacked, club or deli. Multiple soups and salads. Sizzli breakfast sandwiches on bagels, croissants, biscuits, in burritos, or, if you dare, between two pancakes. After 4 p.m. in some locations, the dinner menu begins and you can order burgers, rotisserie chicken or pasta.
Florida's favorite coffee? Wawa's "light and mild" regular, according to Bruce in 2022. "Just last year Wawa Florida Associates brewed enough coffee to fill 10,682 kiddie pools," she said.
Wawa taste test:What’s all the fuss?
Does Wawa offer online ordering, curbside pickup, or delivery?
Yes! Open the Wawa app and choose Curbside Pickup or Delivery, then confirm your store. You can choose to get it right away or schedule it for later. Some locations may not offer all the options.
Does Wawa cater?
It does indeed, with hot trays of hoagies and soup, bundles of cookies and more for your next gathering. Catering is available in all locations.
Does Wawa have a secret menu?
Of course, Wawa has a secret menu.
Head to the touch screen kiosk, look around to make sure no one's watching, and tap the goose icon on the bottom left-hand corner. You should see a new screen, with secret items available during special times through the year, such as the Rainbow Bagel, the Birthday Cake milkshake and Birthday Cake smoothie, colorful lemonades, and a whole range of Halloween items like the Graveyard Smash chocolate cookie and cream smoothie covered in gummy worms.
How did Wawa get such a cultlike following?
Organically. When they started in Pennsylvania, Wawa featured local brands of snacks and bread. They maintained that parochial feel and identity even as they expanded outward (note that they still sell hoagies in Florida, not subs).
Your Monday reminder to check on your friends that have moved away from Wawa https://t.co/kfbjoEu9pf
— Wawa (@Wawa) April 4, 2022
They became known for friendly customer service, and they worked to keep the friendly feel going with regular contests, special anniversary menus, giveaways and seasonal deals (HoagieFest! Siptopia!).
Wawa also is very active in social media, responding daily with jokes and offers of Wawa swag and coupons and helping to build community.
#Wawalovestory #sweepstakes We used Wawa gas to take us on our first romantic trip to Naples FL We stopped to fill up with gas, grab a sub and drinks for the long road trip. We arrived at our destination to enjoy a romantic filled weekend thanks to Wawa
— Valerie S (@Valeries386) February 19, 2020
They're also active in the areas where they open locations. According to Wawa, since they launched their first Florida store they've contributed more than $10 million to non-profits serving local communities including the American Red Cross, Children’s Hospitals, Feeding Florida Food Banks, the USO, JDRF and LLS/Light the Night.
During #NationalNursesWeek the Wawa Community Care Coffee Vehicle will begin its Coffee & Care Tour to brighten the days of healthcare heroes ❤️ Click for a chance to have your hospital be one of 10 stops! https://t.co/J7e3c1kap8 pic.twitter.com/FccwpUjjoR
— Wawa (@Wawa) April 18, 2022
The Wawa Food Share Program allows each store to donate some unsold food items to local food banks.
Last year Wawa started a chain-wide crisis campaign to help victims of Hurricane Ian, matching the first $250,000 in customer donations from more than 970 stores. All donations were given to the Red Cross, designated for Hurricane Ian disaster relief efforts, and Wawa followed up with a $500,000 donation to the Florida Disaster Fund to help recovery efforts. During the emergency, all Florida Wawa stores provided free coffee and fountain beverages to all first responders in Florida, including police, fire, EMT and the National Guard.
Ten years ago, Wawa president Chris Gheyens told phillymag.com, "I think that loyalty is born out of the store associates. We have signature products and are a one-stop shop, but at Wawa’s core, the love affair is between the associates and our customers."
Somewhere between a convenience store and a restaurant lies Wawa, and you'll have a lot of company there.
C. A. Bridges is a Digital Producer for the USA TODAY Network, working with multiple newsrooms across Florida. Local journalists work hard to keep you informed about the things you care about, and you can support them by subscribing to your local news organization. Read more articles by Chris here and follow him on Twitter at @cabridges
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Wawa in Florida: What you need to know about this cultlike convenience store