ORLANDO – The word “Wawa” might not be entirely common to all residents of Central Florida – yet – but Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs is pretty certain that’s about to change, and quickly.
After all, when Jacobs attended the opening ceremony of the first Wama convenience store to open in Florida, she not only was standing before a massive crowd that showed up, but was also dealing with the excitement of members of her own family.
“I never expected to see this many people this enthused,” Jacons said, as she stood on the podium next to the new store at 5910 Central Florida Parkway. “Wow – or wawa, I should probably say, rather than wow.”
Jacobs joined Gov. Rick Scott, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, and Howard B. Stoeckel, the chief executive officer of Wawa, for the opening day. Located right near SeaWorld, the new store is the first – but not planned to be the last – in this state.
Jacobs said she knew on Tuesday night that this store was going to be a very big deal to residents of Central Florida and Orange County,
“When my 22-year-old daughter told me, ‘Mom, what time is the press conference tomorrow, I really want to come,’ I said ‘What do you know about Wawa?’ “ Jacobs said. “She said, ‘Oh, wow, the food and everything they have.’ “
Her daughter, Jacobs added, had never been to a Wawa before. But the store’s reputation, she added, made up for that.
Wawa Inc. is headquartered in Wawa, Pennsylvania, and 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. It’s a highly specialized convenience store, with an emphasis on food service and sandwiches that include hoagies, Wraps, Sizzli breakfast sandwiches, hot soups and fresh bakery products.
Wawa even has its own signature brand of coffee, introduced in the 1970s, and the company sells more than 195 million of those freshly brewed cups each year.
The reputation of that coffee, Stoeckel said, even followed him to Orlando.
When he first contacted city leaders in Orlando, Stoeckel said, “The mayor said to me, ‘Can I have a cup of coffee, because my brother lives in South Jersey and he brags about your coffee.’ ”
That’s true, Dyer said.
“My younger brother lives in New Jersey, and I had had the opportunity to visit Wawa stores,” Dyer said. “You’re exactly the kind of company we want to have in the community, that treats its employees so well and treats its customers so well.“
Wawa stores have other special features. Most of them are open 24 hours a day, offer a gas station as well as food service. They have surcharge-free ATMs as well.
The Orlando store is the first of five stores opening in the greater Orlando area by mid-August, while 100 new Wawa stores are being planned in Florida over the next five years. This is the first time the company has built a Wawa store outside the Mid-Atlantic.
Wawa also plans to open stores in Tampa in 2013. The new stores will employ 35 full-time and part-time workers, which means more than 3,500 jobs being brought to Florida in the next five years.
“I want to thank everybody involved in this,” Gov. Scott said, as he welcomed in the company and the jobs they were bringing to Central Florida. “I know you’re going to do very well here.”
Stoeckel said he looks forward to bringing the Wawa brand to the Sunshine State.
“I am thrilled to be here to represent the 18,000 Wawa associates,” he said. “This is yet another major milestone in our company’s growth.”
The company has evolved in the past 200 years, he said, from an iron factory back when it was founded in 1803 in New Jersey, to a major retailer today.
“At Wawa, we’re here to serve our customers,” he said. “We’re here to win your heart. We’ll earn that one day at a time, one customer at a time.
The store is bringing with it all that Wawa is known for up north, he said, including the hoagie – which was named the official Sandwich of Philadelphia – while at the same time, Orlando residents can expect something unique as well, he added.
“This store is very different from the ones we built in the Mid-Atlantic, because we always want to do things a little bit better,” he said. “What we want to transform to Florida is the magic of the Wawa experience.”
Dyer noted that there was so much anticipation about this store coming to Orlando that “I understand there were people here at 1:30 in the morning, waiting for the store to open. I’ve never heard of that before.”
The Central Florida Parkway store is the first of five that Wawa is opening in this region. Wawa will be opening new ones at 4700 S. Goldenrod Road (July 25), 2184 E. Irlo Bronson Highway in Kissimmee (Aug. 1), 2499 N. Orange Blossom Trail (Aug. 8) and 2500 Silver Star Road (Aug. 15.)
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