Mention the name Wawa to anyone who's ever lived in the mid-Atlantic, and chances are you're going to get a reaction more associated with Game of Thrones than with a convenience store. This privately owned, southeastern Pennsylvania-based chain has managed to garner a cult following among its fleet of 700-plus stores.
Named after the Native American term for the Canada goose (the bird graces the store's logo), Wawa goes way back to 1902 when founder George Wood got his start in the dairy business. During a time before standardized regulations for dairy production, Wood set his milk apart by bringing in doctors to give their stamps of approval to the standards and safety of his products.
Banking on this better-for-you dairy, Wood's grandson, Grahame, took the leap from home delivery to retail in 1964 when he opened the first Wawa Food Market in Folsom, Pennsylvania. Over the next eight years, Wawa's footprint expanded to include a whopping 100 stores in the Northeast. It also introduced a menu of burgers, fried chicken and ready-made sandwiches (or hoagies, as the locals say) along the way.
Since then, Wawa has upped its food game to include a roster of coffees, smoothies and snacks from jalapeño cream cheese to stuffed soft pretzels to mac 'n' cheese bowls. You'll also find freshly made bowls of quinoa and kale any time of day, and Thai mango salads line the shelves of the refrigerated section next to wraps and fruit-and-cheese plates. It's all markedly more appealing than what you'd expect from a store that also happens to deal lottery tickets, antifreeze and unleaded fuel.
Fare quality here has always been high, but it was the introduction of touch screen kiosks in 2002 that accelerated Wawa's popularity from mere roadside convenience stop to breakfast and lunch haven. The magic happens at the counter directly behind those touch screens, but hoagies (built on freshly baked rolls) aren't the half of it. Breakfast offerings include top-your-own oatmeal, custom breakfast burritos, and bowls brimming with eggs and bacon. Meanwhile, comfort food goes big with Buffalo chicken-topped mac 'n' cheese and mashed potatoes crowned with slices of horseradish roast beef.
Take all of these remarkably tasty and affordable attributes, pair them with a sparkling-clean store complete with a killer soundtrack, and there's a good reason why East Coasters will forever pledge their unwavering allegiance to this convenience store.
Caroline Coral is a food and travel writer who splits her time between Philadelphia and the Caribbean. Follow her on Instagram at @caroline.f.coral.
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