Here in the Philadelphia area, Wawa is much more than a convenience store. It is a provider, a security blanket, a beacon in the dark of a Shorti-less night — and, as Mashable notes in a feature today, a “cult.”
Written and photographed by Philadelphia native Amy Lombard, Mashable’s piece — “The Cult of Wawa” — delves deep into the store’s world, right back to the beginning with store number one in Folsom in 1964. In that time, Wawa has become something of a local legend, and one of the area features about which Philadelphians are most boastful.
Lombard’s piece attempts to explain why that is the case, exactly — especially given that, to much of the country, Wawa is little more than a convenience store. But, as one area Wawa customer put it to Lombard in her piece: “It’s like, apple pie and Wawa, you know?” An all-American classic.
Our obsession, it seems, is legend. Here, five takeaways from Mashable’s dive inside the “cult of Wawa”
1. Wawa fans write their own songs
In her first Wawa anecdote, Lombard comes across Wawa devotee Ferrenc Rozsa, who wrote his own Wawa-themed track that he imagines Blake Shelton singing:
“Are you interviewing people about Wawa?” a customer named Ferrenc Rozsa approaches me. “You know, I wrote a song about Wawa.” He quickly retreats to his car and then back into the store with a country tune blasting through the speakers of his iPhone.
Coffee in the morning, hoagies in the afternoon
In the evening I fill up my tank
They got everything and more
I love my Wawa, I love my Wawa
I love my Wawa, it’s my favorite store.
2. Even people who haven’t had Wawa’s iced tea want it
When Wawa first attempted to bring their brand down South, they did so without the inclusion of Wawa Iced Tea. That decision didn’t go over so hot:
Wawa attempted to translate the northeast's culture and loyal following seamlessly down south. They even nixed the idea of automatic doors (because it’s known that at Wawa everyone holds the door for you). Or so they thought.
On launch day they forgot one missing element: Wawa Iced Tea.
Not only was there a line out the door, but the company faced an absolute uproar: Wawa was launching in Florida without one of its most beloved products. Floridians knew exactly what they wanted.
3. Wawa’s headquarters echoes Silicon Valley
Wawa still maintains its original home that founder George Wood purchased in the late 1800s, but the headquarters is currently undergoing renovations. As Lombard describes it, Wawa’s home base wouldn’t be out of place in Silicon Valley:
The Victorian home and surrounding land that George Wood purchased all those years ago is precisely where the headquarters still stand today — fittingly named “Red Roof.” The original home is still intact and hosts a small tour through Wawa’s relics and personal history, while former bedrooms operate as offices and conference rooms.
The current state of Wawa’s headquarters, which is in the process of renovation, isn’t unlike a Silicon Valley tech giant, except without the obvious frills. You certainly won’t find celebrity chefs or employees on scooters, but you will find an impressive innovation lab, test kitchens, employees huddled around laptops proudly wearing Wawa shirts, and a cafeteria that shares a vague resemblance to a Wawa retail location.
4. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt star Ellie Kemper is a fan
Ellie Kemper became obsessed with Wawa during her time attending Princeton University. In fact, she loved it so much, she wrote a personal essay for the school’s alumni magazine in 2011:
Perhaps the greatest love letter of all comes from Ellie Kemper, star of Netflix’s The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and the American version of The Office. In a hilarious 2011 essay for Princeton Alumni magazine, titled “An Ode to Wawa,” Kemper details her undeniable love for the chain:
‘How do I put into words one of the most enduring relationships I have in this world? I’m not sure I know. How do I come to terms with the fact that whenever I come back to Princeton, it is the Wa that I am happiest to see?’
5. Wawa is killing the competition
Even though it isn’t a national store, Wawa serves some 600 million customers per year, and will open 47 locations this year. Lombard attributes that element to Wawa’s “mom-and-pop shop” feel:
For a company that's not nationwide, it has topped Market Force Information's study on America's favorite convenience stores for 2015. So, really, what is it about Wawa?
Wawa’s competition (Starbucks, McDonald’s, 711 and Sheetz, among others) offer similar convenience and product, and with the exception of Sheetz, are readily available on every street corner. “I think it’s just kind of like the All American Store. It’s like, apple pie and Wawa, you know?” explains customer Paula Turnbach.
Wawa has managed to grow into a large retail chain while still maintaining some dynamics of a local, mom-and-pop shop.
This year alone, Wawa hopes to open up 47 more stores, strengthening their reach down South and potentially bringing more members in to the "cult" that is Wawa fandom.
And, well, if that's the case: Welcome, Brothers and Sisters — we are glad to have you. Please be decisive at the sandwich ordering kiosks.