ORLANDO – Consider this: when Wawa Inc. decided to expand its business outside of the Mid-Atlantic and open a Wawa store in another part of the country, they took a gamble that residents of Central Florida – starting here in Orlando – would appreciate and take advantage of the “Wawa experience.”
Area leaders like Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer figured the company based in Wawa, Pennsylvania, had made the right choice for its first-ever southern convenience store, which is why the two mayors were on hand July 18 for the opening ceremony of the first Wama store to set up shop in Florida, at 5910 Central Florida Parkway, right behind SeaWorld.
Were both the Florida and Pennsylvania decision makers correct? What exactly do you get at a Wawa?
Having made a stop on Monday to this new Wawa – the first of five that the company is opening in Orange and Osceola counties this summer – I can tell you there’s quite a bit to expect.
Exhibit A: big lines.
That’s a very healthy sign for Wawa’s future. In a still struggling economy, in a state that remains one of the hardest hit from the collapse of the housing market, Wawa had the look of Disney World on Christmas Day when I got there around noon on Monday. Consumers may be cautious overall about how they spend their disposable income, but without a doubt, they were more than willing to spend it at Wawa.
So what is Wawa? First, there’s a gas station outside, with plenty of pumps available for motorists eager to avoid an empty tank.
Inside, you have in some sections of the building the look and feel of a convenience store; there’s the section providing Wawa coffee, a rack with bags of potato chips, and drinks inside the coolers that run the gamut from bottled water to soda to beer and wine.
But if that makes Wawa sound like your average 7-11, well — not quite. There’s a difference here – a big one.
Wawa Inc. currently operates a chain of more than 594 convenience stores in a five-state area, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Originally a textile company and dairy farm, the first Wawa Food Market was opened on April 16, 1964, in Folsom, Penn.
Keep in mind that early name — Food Market.
From the very start, this was a highly specialized convenience store, with an emphasis on food service and sandwiches that include Hoagies – and if you’ve ever been to Pennsylvania, no explanation of that name is needed — wraps, breakfast sandwiches, hot soups and fresh bakery products.
One of the things I liked quite a bit about Wawa is how you order your food. If you opt for one of their Hoagie’s, what you get is entirely up to you.
The store has menus available with the list of what’s offered there – hot sandwiches, chicken or beef quesadillas, scrambled eggs with bacon, breakfast burritos, soups and more. But I highly recommend one of their “built fresh to order” six inch or 10 inch classic hoagies. You can’t go wrong with one.
Click on to one of the monitors taking orders, and specify what you want – beef, turkey, cheese, etc. – on the sandwich, and then from there, you get plenty of other options.
Toasted or non-toasted bread? Spices or condiments? Extras like peppers, onions, and so on?
You have so many choices that it becomes fun going through the list. You feel like you’re creating your grand luncheon masterpiece.
Once you’ve figured out what it is you want, you submit your order and get a printed copy of it, plus your order number. When your meal is ready, they call your number — and you’re all set. And despite the line, the chefs move quickly – I doubt I waited more than 10 minutes for my order, if that.
What I got was an exceptionally delicious cheese hoagie with roasted red peppers, jalapeno peppers and mayo – cold, tasty, wonderfully filling.
I also had to check out Wawa’s own signature brand of coffee, introduced in the 1970s. After I did, I understood why the company sells more than 195 million cups of this strong, pleasing java every year.
Wawa has other specialties. They have surcharge-free ATMs, a unique plus in this area where some tourism-area ATMs appear to want 90 percent of your bank account before you can withdraw $20.
The Central Florida Parkway store is the first of five Wawas open locally. The others are at 4700 S. Goldenrod Road (which opened July 25), 2184 E. Irlo Bronson Highway in Kissimmee (which opened on Aug. 1), and 2499 N. Orange Blossom Trail (which opened on Aug. 8).
The latest, at 2500 Silver Star Road, opens Wednesday, Aug. 15.
Do yourself a favor: check one of them out. The food is much better than what you might normally expect from a so-called convenience store, but then again, this is more of a Food Market than a convenience store. A lot of passion goes into preparing those sandwiches and meals.
And as those crowds that packed all around me on Monday demonstrated, Wawa Inc. was right on target to expect that the Orlando market would fully appreciate what they have to offer. I know I did.
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.