The veggies, cold cuts and condiments were flying.
Port Richey police lined up against city firefighters to find out who could make the most Wawa built-to-order hoagies in the time it takes to play a song. And both sides were cranking them out as part of Wawa's grand opening celebration Wednesday for its new store at 8519 U.S. 19, at Ridge Road.
Prior to the competition, Port Richey police Chief Dave Brown engaged in some friendly trash talking.
"The Fire Department is going down!" he cheered into a microphone.
But it didn't end that way. Chief Tim Fussell's firefighters won the sandwich showdown, making 32 hoagies to the Police Department's 25. Dozens of onlookers applauded and cheered as Fussell received the Wawa trophy. Both sides came out winners, however, as Wawa donated $1,000 each to the Port Richey Volunteer Firefighter Association and the Gold Shield Foundation.
Wawa officials paid tribute to the city's law enforcement and firefighters at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new store, which is the third in recent weeks to open in the Tampa Bay area, and first in Pasco. Two more Wawa stores will open in Pasco in the next two weeks at Little and Ridge roads, and U.S.19 and State Road 54.
It's part of a push by Wawa to open 10 stores this year in the Tampa Bay area, plus 15 in Orlando. The chain projects it will have 100 stores open in those two markets in the next five years. Each store employs about 35 people.
The heavily traveled intersection at U.S. 19 and Ridge Road and the name recognition the Wawa brand has with northerners transplanted to the area made for a perfect location in Port Richey, CEO and president Chris Gheysens told the Times.
"We're really excited to be here. The city has welcomed us with open arms," he said.
Wawa has been a staple in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for decades since the first store opened in 1964. The chain also has stores in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, offering gas, convenience shopping and its signature menu with built-to-order hoagies, soups and fresh fruit, Gheysens said.
Gheysens shared his excitement with about 100 people attending the grand opening. And inside the new 6,000-square-foot store, patrons swarmed to order hoagies from a touchscreen system that allows customers to build their hoagies to their liking.
"We want to make life easy on our customers," Gheysens said. "We know people have busy lives. So you can come in, type your order into the system, do your shopping, and come back when you're done and get your hoagie."
And anyone who purchased a hoagie Wednesday did their part in combatting hunger. As part of its "Lending a Helping Hoagie" campaign, Wawa donated a percentage of sales from each hoagie to Feeding America Tampa Bay.
The grand opening attracted Port Richey officials, local business leaders and Sheriff Chris Nocco.
"It's a real shot in the arm for Port Richey," said City Council member Terry Rowe. "We've had some lean years recently, so this is a great economic investment in our city."
The convenience store replaces an underperforming Denny's restaurant that was razed last year. In the late '80s, that Denny's was known as "Little City Hall," because council members at the time would gather there to discuss city business over coffee, in violation of the state's open government laws.
That relic of the past has been replaced with a business that officials hope will help with revitalization efforts along U.S. 19.
"It's the perfect location for them. I think they will be very successful in the city," said Port Richey City Manager Tom O'Neill.