Last month, the New York Times and Buzzfeed published articles about the Philadelphia-area convenience store, Wawa. Originally started as a dairy and milk delivery service in the very late 1800s, Wawa now holds a cult-like following among the people of Southeast Pennsylvania, even though it’s number 40 on the Forbes list of largest private companies. So, what’s the big deal about Wawa, and why does it garner the devotion that it does?
Wawa embraces the classic regionalism that is the hoagie, Philadelphia’s preferred nom de sandwich, as well as means of production for its food. While the stores no longer serve Philly’s beloved Amoroso rolls, likely a strong point for the fanaticism, the current rolls are made in South Jersey and distributed daily to the stores. Likewise, Wawa still operates it’s own dairy and has since 1989, at least attempting to remain as local as it appears. If there’s anything that Philadelphians love, it’s locality. And though, there’s plenty of hoagie places in the city, there’s one reason Wawa retains it’s market.
It’s quick, cheap, and abundant. From an imagined map of the city in my mind, I can place the eight Wawas in Center City and the immediate neighborhoods, mainly because of the free ATMs that inhabit each store. And if I crave a hoagie at any point of the day, outside of my neighborhood, I’d be hard-pressed to know exactly the place to go. Like a Dominos store, Wawa certainly the model of creating the same experience at each store, and building the same quality of sandwich at whichever store you happen to walk into. This way, it’s easy to gain that reputation of an old fall-back, when you’re tired from work or a night out or simply lacking the acuity to eat anything else.
With that same thought, it’s the touch-screen ordering system that makes Wawa even easier to frequent. You can be in-and-out without needing to explain an order or fret about having your sandwich turn out wrong. While Wawa was a pioneer in using the touch-screen, that’s been copied by it’s competitors, like Sheetz or QuickChek, for years. Really, the only thing the touch-screen remains useful for is keeping your strange cravings, like a certain presidential-candidate’s meatball-and-pickle hoagie, secret, like a sacred bond shared by only you and the sandwich maker.
The convenience store is nothing original to Southeast Pennsylvania, and hoagies are obviously plentiful in the land of hoagies. Whatever it is they do that makes people get Wawa tattoos is definitely working, but it is a shame that Philly might only gain recognition for a chain (and the cheesesteak) while the city has been in a sort of foodie renaissance in the past few months.