This year, Wawa will be opening 250 new stores across eight Wawa-less states. Previously, the Philadelphia-based chain was limited to about 1,000 mid-Atlantic east coast locations, mostly concentrated in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but also in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. The biggest recent jump in location was when Wawa came to Florida in 2012. But last year, Wawa announced plans to open about 160 stores in the Midwest in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. Just yesterday, the chain unveiled plans to open 70 new stores and extend south to Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina. If you’re in one of these states and want to know what all the hype is about, here is everything you need to know about Wawa.

A Brief History Of Wawa

Wawa was founded in 1902 in Delaware County, PA as a dairy farm owned by George Wood. The name Wawa is believed to be a Native American word for “wild goose,” which is why the logo shows a goose in flight. In 1964, the Wood family opened the first Wawa Food Market in Folsom, PA (a town southwest of Philadelphia), and by 1969, they had locations in New Jersey and were selling prepared foods like fried chicken and hamburgers. Just a year later, Wawa included deli sandwiches and the iconic hoagie. It was also around this time that Wawa branded itself as a convenience store and advertised to people on the go.

Photo by Christian Lambert from Unsplash

Wawa introduced concepts in the 90s that are still in stores today. In 1992, it introduced the first “shorti” hoagie and had the first Hoagie Day, which has since been turned into “HoagieFest” and covers a longer period of time from late June to early July. In 1995, ATMs were installed, and in 1996 the first gas station was added to a Wawa in Millsboro, DE. At the turn of the millennium, Wawa installed its touch screen ordering system for their prepared food menu. More recently, Wawa added burgers and fries to their menu in 2021, and pizza in July 2023. These items are only available after 4 p.m.

Photo by Anvesh from Unsplash

What Is Wawa?

If you asked me if Wawa was a gas station, or a convenience store, or a fast food restaurant, I would simply say, “Yes.” On Wikipedia, Wawa is just listed as a “company,” and I honestly think that’s most fitting.

Wawa — emphasis on the first “wa” — is simply its own entity, a store that cannot be compared to any other. Today, it is most famous for its sandwich counter and the hoagie, which is like a sub and consists of your preferred deli meats, cheese, and vegetable toppings on an Italian roll. But it also has other made-to-order items, like quesadillas, breakfast burritos, hot sandwiches, and a full espresso and coffee bar. It also sells typical convenience store items, like chips, sodas, tobacco products, candy, and bakery items like doughnuts. My local Wawa growing up also sells township trash bags. I find the most underrated part of Wawa is its line of bottled juice and iced teas. There is just something about the green tea that makes it so sweet and thirst-quenching.

Photo via Wawa

The Local Take

Most people from southeast Pennsylvania and the surrounding areas are quite territorial and prideful about Wawa — myself included. I love the food and the coffee, the hoagies, and the convenience of a one-stop shop. But the real love of Wawa comes from the community.

Every weekend, my dad (and softball coach) would take my sisters and I to Wawa before tournament days and grab breakfast, stock up on snacks and Gatorade, and order a hoagie to eat in between games. The employees there watched me grow up, and still show me a little extra kindness and say hello when I visit over school holidays. Mr. Haj — the name literally displayed on his nametag — always expresses excitement when I come in, asking how school is going, how long I’m around, and gives me a gloved fist bump over the deli counter.

When my partner, a Massachusetts native, came to my hometown and tried Wawa for the first time, he was in awe about how everyone always holds the door open for each other, and how the people walking through always so thank you. “That would never happen in a Dunkin’,” he said. Another stunning behavior for those unfamiliar with Wawa is that it's not uncommon for Wawa patrons to say “Go Birds” in passing as a gesture of goodwill.

Hearing that Wawa is expanding so far from its origins makes me a little sad because of this. First, Wawa pizza and burgers and fries don’t excite me because even though Wawa has prepared food, I’ve always viewed it as not a fast food restaurant. As for the expansion across the country, I’m sure the food and the convenience will have great reception, but I’m not sure that people would get the feeling of walking into a Wawa as a local. I know that Wawa is a billion-dollar business, but I’m protective of Mr. Haj, and my door-holders, and everything that makes Wawa feel like a neighborhood corner store.