Sunday, June 19, 2005

Funny Name, Great Food: The Cult of Wawa

I didn't realize how good I had it until I moved from the Delaware Valley (Philly, South Jersey, Delaware) out to Pittsburgh in the mid-90s. Frankly, I'd been spoiled beyond belief and had no clue.

The cold, smelly dishrag of reality hit me HARD in the face one morning as I asked someone if there was a nearby convenience store where I could grab a cup of coffee. "Well, there's a 7-11," they said, wrinkling their nose and pinching their face in a look of disgust. I shuddered as if somebody had just walked over my grave and I corrected myself.

"No, not that. Like a Wawa."

I might as well have been speaking in tongues. They looked at me funny and asked, "What's a Wawa?" And then I knew, I wasn't in Kansas (or the DelVal) anymore. Same state, totally different culture.

Trying to explain to somebody "what's a Wawa" is like trying to explain the theory of relativity over a few beers. It just ain't that easy.

Inevitably I'll start by saying that it's "like a convenience store" which leads most people to utter such horrid statements as "so it's a 7-11" or, perhaps worse, "oh, like Cumberland Farms."

Here comes that shudder again.

No, Wawa is far from a convenience store and probably closer to a way of life, maybe a cult, for those of us who grew up around them or had the good fortune to move into an area full of them.

Imagine the greatest convenience store ever. Now add a deli where they make fresh hoagies and sandwiches any time, day or night. (I know this because I have ordered the liverwurst on rye with mayo and sliced onion at around 3 AM to take the edge off after a few drinks and before a few late night movies.) And, like any good chain, you can get a hoagie at a Wawa in Virginia and a hoagie at a Wawa in New Jersey and it has the same wonderful taste. The same chewy, slightly crusty roll. (Excuse me, I need to be alone with my thoughts for a moment.)

Some Wawas even sell.... sigh... beer. In fact, walking into one in Virginia last summer on my way to the Outer Banks I nearly passed out at the sight of stacks and stacks of beer and cold cases filled with six packs. To be honest, that would probably be too much for me to handle.

To say that Wawa is simply a great convenience store where you can get an awesome hoagie or liverwurst sandwich at 3 AM is selling it short. Because it fails to mention... Wawa Coffee.

I have friends who have started every day of their adult life with a cup of Wawa coffee. And have snickered every time at the quality pledge signed by former Wawa prez Dick Wood. (Wood stepped down a year or so ago I believe so I don't know if his name has been replaced on the snicker-inducing cups.)

You will never find burnt coffee in a Wawa. Instead, you will find 10, maybe 20 pots of everything from the house blend to decaf and a handful of freshly-made flavored blends. My signature carafe of half house blend, half hazelnut has snapped me out of a booze and cigar induced funk on many a morning, turning me from the walking dead into something that resembles a functioning member of society.

To put it lightly, I couldn't have survived two decades of garage sales, flea markets and thrift store excursions without knowing the nearest Wawa was probably just ten minutes in any direction. At times, I'm pretty sure my blood was 1/3 last night's booze, 1/3 Wawa coffee, and 1/3 mayonnaise.

These days I live about twenty minutes from the closest Wawa (one of the bright, beautiful new Super-Wa's, as Chris and I call them, which feature all the usual Wawa high points plus cheap gas and restrooms), and I've been known to find any excuse to detour nearby and grab an Italian Classic (little mayo, little oil, lettuce, tomato, sweet peppers, S&P, oregano, grated Parm), some chips and Wawa's own Lemonade Iced Tea (aka an Arnold Palmer).

In fact, I washed down the disappointment of yesterday's trip to Baltimore's Biggest Yard Sale with just such a combo. As the saying goes, gotta have Wawa.


Anonymous said...

Lived most of my adult life in Delaware County, PA, the home of Wawa. First store was in Folcroft in '62, then added stores in Delco before branching out and becoming the regional giant (approx. 500 stores) that it is.
As a parent and a coach, the Wawa that always seems to be close to where the kids or their/our team is playing, becomes THE place to get water, gatorade, team snacks, etc. Not a game goes by that a stop at Wawa isn't included.

Dan said...

When I stopped at the closest Wa this past weekend for my hoagie there was a baseball team in there getting snacks and sandwiches for the road. Wow, even I wasn't aware it was up to 500 stores!

Synd-e said...

I refer to those large Wawa's with gas stations as "The Uber-Wa", actually. And I gotta second you on the food - the deli sandwiches are actually really good. And! And! And! If you go to a Wawa that has touch screen ordering, they never mess up your order!

Also, their Diet Green Tea is really excellent and cheap - 1.49 for half a gallon. I only wish they made the Raspberry in diet as well, since that's my favorite artificial flavor.

Dan said...

I agree... the touch screen ordering has been a magnificent development along the same line as the deli lunchmeat order screen they had at one of the grocery store chains up in Doylestown. Ah, Wa...

Anonymous said...

man, we don't have anything good here in the vast wasteland known as the midwest. i've heard of the mythic Wawa before, and all these stories ever do is inspire rabid jealousy.