Disclosure: The author grew up near a Wawa, and has longed for Wawa hoagies since he moved. But he's not alone.
There are soldiers overseas who get Wawa coffee in care packages. There is a couple who got married in their Maryland Wawa. There is a New Jersey man who has a Wawa tattoo. There are five Pennsylvania women who spent nearly two years visiting every Wawa — 586 when their journey ended in 2009. That same trek would need 607 stops today.
What makes Wawa an "integral part of customers' lives" (Harvard Business Review) or earns it coverage like "Convenience Cult?" (New York Times)? Why am I, a college-educated, somewhat mature 28-year-old man, legitimately excited about a new convenience store? Why, when I took my Floridian fiancee home, was I almost as concerned about her reaction to her first Wawa hoagie as I was about her liking my family and friends?
It's a question I have pondered since I heard Wawa was invading Florida. Wawa is just a convenience store with a sandwich shop. I'll admit this. The sandwiches are good, not great. No self-respecting Philadelphian would take a visitor to Wawa for the city's definitive cheesesteak.
I called Jon Myerow, the founder of Tria, a chain of Philadelphia wine bars. Myerow, 49, has a discerning palate. His bars serve things like "speck alto adige and taleggio" (really nice ham and cheese). Myerow goes to Wawa at least three times a week. He likes the hoagies.
"It isn't the best, but it's very good. And it's comforting, that it's there," he said. "When you live near a Wawa, it's part of your life."
He's right. Wawa is where I went Sundays as a child, after church but before the Eagles game, to get a bag of hoagies for the family. Wawa is where I dropped my dad in the mornings, so he could get a cup of coffee before walking to the train station. It is where I went for a quick meal on the way to work or after a night on the town.
There are many people who live near Philadelphia who have never seen the Liberty Bell. There are far fewer who have never eaten at Wawa.
So, Florida friends, if you bite into a Wawa hoagie in the presence of someone who grew up with the place and you decide it's not much better than a Publix sub (as much as it pains me to admit this, it really isn't), take it easy on us. Because when we're raving about Wawa, we're not really talking about a convenience store, sandwiches or coffee. We're talking about home.
Will Hobson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3400.