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The First-Timer's Guide to Wawa: These Are the 12 Things You Can't Leave Without

Wawa exterior

Ask any Philadelphian about Wawa and a strange thing happens: Their eyes glaze over, their faces soften with a dreamy wistfulness, and they often (unconsciously) rub their bellies—even if they were at one earlier that day. To say Wawa is just another chain of convenience stores is like saying Barbie was just a movie; while technically true, it misses the point. The French have their cozy neighborhood cafés, Bostonians have their Dunkin' but the truly fortunate East Coasters have their local Wawa. It’s not quite a religion, but it is a way of life.

Regulars know they’ll find friendly employees who genuinely care, an array of coffee options better than any gas station should be able to offer, exquisite hoagies and sandwiches that win awards, the best of local snacks and even customizable hot (or cold) meals ready in a flash. But even if you’re new to the wonders of Wawa, fear not!

Wawa isn’t just for Pennsylvanians: Everyone, local or newbie, whatever your background, whether you’re rolling in dough or scrappy with a fire in your belly, is welcome to step through the clear glass doors to have a friendly and seriously delicious experience, across the Mid-Atlantic and further south along the Eastern Seaboard. So what’s the best way to do it? Read on!

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What on earth is Wawa?

This beloved chain of stores got its start as a small dairy farm with Guernsey cows in 1902, in a little town in Eastern Pennsylvania (where the company is still headquartered). The family-run dairy delivered milk and cream to homes and businesses throughout the bustling Philadelphia area, then opened its first food market in 1964.

By the time the 70s shimmied on in, Wawa had stores in Delaware and New Jersey and was selling hot foods, prepared hoagies and sandwiches to hungry customers. In the 80s they started making food to order in their delis and began winning awards for their coffee. Their ads declare, “We do it just a little bit better” and their customers agreed!

They were there at the inaugural Hoagie Day, now a 40+ year annual tradition, they sold chips, snacks and sweets made by small businesses in the area before “local” got trendy, and Wawa made great coffee (and later smoothies and espresso drinks) way before other convenience stores woke up and smelled the—well, you get it.

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What does Wawa mean?

The word itself is likely from the Native Ojibwe tribe’s word for “snow goose,” which was used to identify the location of what later became known as the town of Wawa, PA.

Where can I find a Wawa near me?

Wawa has locations in and around Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania, as well as in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Florida, and are in the process of building their first location in North Carolina. This year they opened their 1,000th location and have plans to open more stores in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama in the next few years.

Looking for a Wawa? The grandest can be found at the historic Independence Mall in center city Philadelphia, but whether you’re hanging out at home or cruising the open road, their store locator will help you find the nearest one.

Really? A Goose?

Wawa’s Canadian goose is a fitting symbol for a Philly-area-based chain. While geese can be pushy, annoying and sometimes a nuisance, they also fly beautifully as a team in a V-shaped formation. Wally, the company’s mascot and Chief Honker, is on the logo as a symbol of encouragement and teamwork.

And Wawa’s 37,000 employees have taken it to heart: As one local manager noted in BusinessInsider.com, “The most successful Wawa associates have ‘goose blood’,” which she interpreted as, “humble, energetic, fun-loving, trustworthy, motivated, and caring.”

What's so great about Wawa?

Let me list the ways:

1. The staff are so friendly. “The people who work there are pleasant, accommodating and nice. It’s a very inclusive place,” notes a retired local banker who worked with Wawa HQ for several decades, “Plus they get you in and out very quickly… Wawa is nicer than any other convenience store I’ve been to.”
2. Kiosk touch screens put you in charge! Way back in 2002 they added kiosk touch screens to make customizing their hoagies, hot food and specialized coffee drinks as quick and easy as possible. You can modify your food or drinks any way you want: Zip through each set of options until you’ve customized your order just how you like it. Print your ticket, go pay at the register and then pick up your freshly made order a few minutes later.
3. They make the best sandwiches of all time. Cue the Rocky theme song: Wawa is the sandwich underdog! In 2018, a survey of more than 11,000 sandwich eaters declared Wawa their favorite sandwich shop, beating out huge national chains and fast food icons for the very first time.
4. Game days! Want to feel the team spirit? Stroll on into the local Wawa and feel the charge in the air as fans gather snacks, drinks and sandwiches—and everybody chats about the game to come! If you’re lucky, someone will say the word “jawn” and then you’ll know you’ve truly arrived.
5. Generosity in every community. Wawa raised $1.5 million for the American Red Cross’ hurricane relief efforts in 2017, and they offer small kindnesses: Teachers and school administrators in Florida and the Mid-Atlantic region once again got a month of free coffee to help them start the school year right, and Wawa recently launched the Coffee and Care Cart at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to give away free hot and cold beverages to patients, their families and hospital workers.
6. More electric vehicle charging stations than any other gas retailer. In the 90s, this humble convenience store joined the tech revolution and has been leading the way ever since. Today they have more electric vehicle chargers at their gas stations than any of their competitors.
7. You feel proud to spend money there. In the early 90s, Wawa began offering employees stock options—a move that’s practically unheard of for convenience stores—which means they essentially give every worker the opportunity to share in the profits when the company does well. Employees hold about 40% of the privately-owned Wawa stock.
8. The merch! It’s funny, it’s affordable, and it’s fire.

<p>Courtesy of Wawa</p>

Courtesy of Wawa

The 12 Best Things to Buy at Wawa

1. Coffee—regular or fancy!

Wawa’s all-Arabica selection of drip coffee comes in a variety of roasts and flavors, and all are sourced sustainably. The hazelnut and French Vanilla are way better than a gas station should offer, and there are also seasonal flavors like Maple Coffee Cake, Blueberry Cobbler and a balanced, warming take on Pumpkin Spice.

But Wawa also has a range of innovative espresso drinks, cold brews, delicious iced teas and smoothies to rival the most expensive coffee chains; utterly customizable, prepared pretty quickly and for a fraction of the price— go ahead, get yourself the large. You’re worth it (and it still costs less than the one in the mermaid cup)!

2. A breakfast sandwich

On any given day, you’ll find 10 or more hot breakfast sandwiches, made to order nice and buttery, hot and quick, or convenient grab-and-go options. Step right up and design the most important meal of the day the way you like it, or grab a prepared Sizzli breakfast sandwich—the one that replaces bread with maple pancakes is especially good. And grab a bottle of water (you’ll be thirsty later).If you’re going for a lighter start, they’ll whip up avocado toast with whatever toppings your (healthy) heart desires…or bacon. Wawa doesn’t judge.

3. A soft pretzel

Are they baked by the Amish first thing each morning? Nope. Those are hard to find these days. But are they chewy, soft, flecked with big crunchy grains of salt and barely sweet? Yup. Grab a pack of mustard and prepare to have all your carb-o-tastic dreams come true.

4. The South Philly Breakfast

Hungry? In a hurry? Counting your pennies? A cup of coffee and a freshly baked soft pretzel will get you going, fill you up, and keep you energized until it’s time for lunch—and usually for under $4.

5. Wawa’s seasonal beer 4-pack

Thanks to a partnership with 2SP brewery, located just a few miles down the road from Wawa HQ, the last few years have seen a holiday oatmeal stout brewed with Wawa’s Reserve Winter Blend coffee for a truly malty and sweet breakfast of champions…though we hear it’s best enjoyed after work! Grab some if you’re lucky enough to find it!

6. A hoagie! Or any sandwich, really. Or a quesadilla. Or…

It’s the little hoagie (call it a Shorti) that could! These sandwiches win awards against big global brands, and it’s no surprise. Homemade bread options (some of the bread at Wawa is baked on-site twice a day), good quality meats, over a dozen spreads to choose from (or combine!), more than 10 fresh and pickled toppings (most included in the price) and an array of seasonings means you really can have it the way you want.
First time and you’re not sure what to try? The Italian hoagie is a classic—or ask the person standing next to you what they like and prepare for a spontaneous, heartfelt Ode to a Sandwich.

7. Kids' meals that put fast food on notice!

Colorful carryout boxes covered in games and geese, plus plenty of options like junior hoagies, chicken strips, hot sandwiches, mac and cheese or just a couple meatballs get paired with customizable sides and water or Wawa’s own chocolate milk. Get a fresh, affordable, tasty kid meal your little ones might actually finish.

8. Chips

The range of chips, pretzels and salty snacks you’ll find in the aisles of a Wawa put the big national chains to shame. Want a bag of Amish baked pretzels? Potato chips kettle-fried nearby? Popcorn made from local corn? Sure, Wawa has the big brands too, but if you want a taste of the snacks made nearby pop into a Wawa and enjoy wandering the aisles.

9. Tastykakes

No one knows the value of a Tastykake like someone who doesn’t live near a Wawa. The Philly-based company has been delighting locals who want a sweet treat for over 100 years. Try them all—Butterscotch Krimpets and Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes reign supreme, but the cupcakes, cookies, pies, pecan swirls and Koffee Kakes are pretty darn good too.

10. Mac and Cheese

Sometimes life is hard and there is nothing you can do about it… but there’s always macaroni and cheese, and at Wawa they’ll sell you four delicious kinds, piping hot, cheesy and full of comfort. If mac and cheese is not your thing, they have many cozy sides: mashed potatoes, black beans, rice, stuffing, meatballs (wait, meatballs? Nice!), and a cheddar cheese dipping sauce. The only downside? No gravy for the mashed potatoes. But they will give you plenty of butter.

11. Soups & Salads

That’s right, you should definitely order a salad at this gas station. Of the 10 options, each one has, more or less, around 20 different ingredients you can add, and that’s before the dressings! The options are fresh and interesting— ciabatta croutons, applewood smoked bacon or crispy jalapeños, anyone?— and a welcome break from the usual fried food when you’re on the road. The soups are cozy and satisfying once the weather cools off, and it’s clear someone in the back cared enough to get them just right.

12. Wawa brand dairy… including ice cream!

Wawa still owns its own dairy and processes fresh milk from local dairies. You can find it in-store (except in Florida) at the coffee station or in the cold case for purchase. The milks are available in a variety of flavors and fat levels for your coffee. And don't sleep on the ice cream. The mint chocolate chip is a classic, but really there’s no wrong choice. You’re at Wawa.

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