Thursday, October 30, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Wawa's new boss pledges a bread oven in every store: Update

CEO Chris Gheysens is even making room to sit down, in some stores

Wawa's new boss pledges a bread oven in every store: Update

Ra Matthews puts freshly baked hoagie rolls on display at the Wawa.
Ra Matthews puts freshly baked hoagie rolls on display at the Wawa.

UPDATE: After readers asked about changes to Wawa's cold-cuts prep, spokeswoman Lori Bruce says: "We have been phasing out slicers for a few years now; we currently have them in about 100 stores." Most stores now use pre-sliced meats and cheeses "received fresh... on a daily basis" through Wawa's South Jersey-based supplpy chain (there's a different chain for Florida stores) from Berks, Giordano's, and other cold-cut houses; Dietz and Watson has not been a supplier. 

EARLIER: 
Chris Gheysens, who's been Wawa's CEO since New Year's Day, lives in South Jersey and works at company HQ in Delaware County when he's not running around 600 -plus Wawa stores from North Jersey to Orlando. 

So he doesn't get downtown much, Gheysens admitted to the Irish American Business Chamber & Network (corrected) at its Pyramid Club luncheon today. "You know how it is. I've got four kids. So not a dollar on me" when he had to feed a meter this morning, he said. 

"So I stopped at the ATM. There was a three-dollar surcharge. What's Wawa's surcharge?" Wawa friends in the crowd yelled back, "Zero!" and applauded.

"Right. So I went in Starbucks. They charged me $2.25 for a cup of coffee. What's Wawa's coffee price?" The shout came back: "A dollar." "And Wawa's coffee is better." Pause. "This is not an advertisement by any sense." That got the laugh line too.

He was story-telling: Center City has converted to card-operated parking meters. No matter; the crowd went right along as he sketched a "Blue Ocean" business strategy -- "Couple gas, with food service, in good locations, with great customer service... No one else is doing that" in Wawa's markets.

Wawa, Gheysens says, now wants to be seen, not as fast food, but as "Fast Casual," in a league with fresh-food but no-waitress-to-tip Five Guys, Chipotle, or Panera, only without all the seating. Except in Florida, and at some new stores, which are adding chairs outside, and seem more like the Sheetz I visited in Carlisle the other day, than the classic move-you-along Wawa way.

"In Florida, we're using the same feel, but a different store model," with glass walls, "and seating outside," Gheysens affirmed. "Go around Philadelphia, you don't see those stores." A majority of Wawas now sell gas, but he's still planning to upgrade smaller no-gas outlets, especially in Center City, and the popular but worn outpost at Penn: "That needs to be a landmark."

Gheysens also said Wawa has made a decision on its store-baked bread experiment in partnership with Amoroso's, Wawa's bread supplier: "Fresh baked rolls. By the end of the year you will have an oven in every Wawa." Which means more bread baked on site (and maybe less from Amoroso's South Jersey industrial bakery).

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There'll also be employees in "mock chef coats." "Less clutter. Brighter colors. More consistent," Gheysens says, "with what you find in a Panera or a Starbucks."  

Joseph N. DiStefano
About this blog

PhillyDeals posts raw drafts and updates of Joseph N. DiStefano's columns and stories about Philly-area finance, investment, commercial real estate, tech, hiring and public spending, which he's been writing since 1989, mostly for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

DiStefano studied economics, history and a little engineering at Penn, taught writing at St. Joe's, and has written the book Comcasted, more than a thousand columns, and thousands of articles, and raised six children with his wife, who is a saint.

Reach Joseph N. at JoeD@phillynews.com or 215 854 5194.

Joseph N. DiStefano
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