Wawa, the fan-favorite convenience store known for its hoagies and coffee, is opening a drive-thru restaurant in Florida.
Largo, a suburban city in the Tampa Bay area, gave Wawa the go-ahead to begin work on the new location, formerly a KFC restaurant at 2530 East Bay Dr.
Unlike most Wawas, the Largo location won’t have gas pumps. Instead, it will focus on selling food and drinks to customers on the go.
The chain of 1,017 stores across the country is known for comfort food staples like mashed potatoes, rice and beans, soups, hoagies, breakfast bowls and crispy chicken sandwiches. Customers can also get their caffeine fix from an extensive self-serve counter with different roasts of coffee, creamers and almond milk.
The future Wawa restaurant and store in Florida is part of the Pennsylvania company’s push to expand its drive-thru restaurants nationwide. The project started in July 2020, when Wawa announced its first drive-thru would be opened in Falls Township, Pennsylvania.
The drive-thru concept was started in part to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, when some customers were more comfortable ordering food from the comfort of their own cars rather than going into convenience stores.
“We are hoping to learn from the layout, workflow and traffic flow at this location, as we continue to explore alternatives for longer-term application to our stores post-COVID-19,” said Terri Micklin, Wawa’s director of construction, in 2020.
The drive-thrus are also part of the company’s larger expansion efforts. Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens told the Philadelphia Business Journal that they hope to have 1,800 stores by the end of the decade.
As it expands, Wawa is trying to raise its restaurant bona fides, looking to be more than just a convenience store. In 2020, the company launched a dinner menu, which includes a burger, pasta and pot roast. After it was launched, the burger became a bestseller at the first drive-thru location.
Will a drive-thru Wawa make it to South Florida?
The three-county region already has 37 Wawas that are either open or slated to open soon. Lori Bruce, Wawa’s senior manager for media relations, told the Miami Herald that the company is planning to open seven new stores in Miami-Dade and Broward counties before the end of the year, including the first two in Hollywood. In August, Wawa forecasts opening up stores in Medley, Hialeah and Oakland Park.
Bruce declined to say if drive-thru locations are planned in South Florida, but emphasized that the Largo location will serve as a test case for potential new drive-thrus in the state.
“Wawa is committed to testing and innovating new store formats to provide the greatest level of convenience for our customers,” Bruce said. “With this new Largo store, we plan to continue to test and learn from our drive-thru prototype while gathering feedback from our customers and associates.”