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Any Pennsylvanian knows the magnetic allure of Wawa.
The convenience store chain has recruited an army of steadfast shoppers; however, many Americans don’t know of the superior chain, as its locations are limited to six states on the East Coast.
Recently, we ventured into Wawa country to get an idea of what the fuss is all about at the convenience chain and its rival, Sheetz.
We came away with a new understanding of the fabled chain and its fiercely loyal fans.
Here’s how Wawa won us over:
Our quest started off in the parking lot of a Wawa in south Phillipsburg, New Jersey, off Route 22. The gas pumps were plentiful and bustling with activity, but we were more interested in what waited within.
Wawa, with more than 720 locations in six states on the East Coast, is renowned for its high-quality inexpensive food. The vibe is clean and professional, yet unassuming. Muted yellows and browns are the key colors, leading to a relaxed but often bland visual landscape.
It takes a few minutes to even comprehend the array of food options available at Wawa. The well-stocked prepackaged section is ambitious and diverse in scope. Even packaged food appears fresh — not as though it has been abandoned on the shelf for untold lengths.
The coffee station is equally bountiful, something crucial to a well-regarded highway pit stop. Espressos and lattes are offered in addition to the wide range of blends.
Wawa’s breakfast-pastry selection receives points for variety, if not creativity. It’s normal doughnut fare, but at six for $3, the price is right.
The milkshake and Icee machines, a convenience store classic, are another weft in the rich woven tapestry of Wawa’s culinary smorgasbord. Unfortunately, this location’s machines were broken — as were our hopes for a refreshing chilled beverage.
Our spirits were lifted upon approaching Wawa’s digital ordering kiosk, our gateway to the chain’s legendary made-to-order sandwiches and more. It implored us to “Select a Variety” — and oh! What variety.
The prices for everything are extremely reasonable, be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
The hoagies and other sandwiches are made fresh in front of your eyes. Of course, there are sacrifices to be had for freshly prepared fare, as the wait is a good five to seven minutes.
We left, arms laden with the spoils of our quest. Between us, we shared the following: a small meatball hoagie, a tomato-and-cheese panini, a small tomato-and-basil bisque, a bacon avocado club sandwich, a “dirt” parfait, and two Wawa-branded teas.
The $1.49 teas are surprisingly good. They are quite sweet and sugary, including the diet green tea. But as far as gas-station-branded beverages go, it doesn’t get much better than this.
The humble hoagie is one of the main attractions at Wawa, and it does not disappoint. Served warm and well-toasted, with melty mozzarella and spongy yet hardy bread, the meatball hoagie is on the same level of quality as your favorite local deli. After a long day on the road, such warm comfort — at a modest $4.59 — is welcome.
Wawa’s $5.29 cheese panini, however, transcends comfort to reach a surprising level of sophistication. This particular iteration is expertly grilled, and bedecked with tomato, baby spinach greens, and a creamy sun-dried tomato pesto sauce. It’s the kind of sandwich that wouldn’t be out of place at an upscale bistro or Panera Bread — but with a price that speaks to its gas-station roots.
Continuing on the upscale bistro theme is the tomato basil bisque, another unlikely find at a gas-station convenience store. The quality isn’t at quite the same level as the panini — the broth is a tad watery for a bisque, and the flavor is tasty but lacking complexity — but the effort is a worthy and admirable one.
One misstep, however, is the avocado bacon club. The effort of the previous items is absent. Iceberg lettuce? Under-toasted bread? This isn’t the quality cuisine we quickly have come to expect of Wawa. However, as readers have pointed out, one can fairly easily modify the order. So perhaps the blame here lies with us.
Fortunately, Wawa regains its footing with a childhood classic that our testers couldn’t resist: the “dirt cup” parfait. Kate Taylor, our resident dirt correspondent, was immediately enamored. Each element is the platonic ideal of pudding: the mousse is airy, the Oreo crumbles retain their crunch, and the worm-to-dirt ratio is golden. While Wawa offers some more posh items, it’s nice to see the chain dabble in the convenience-store staples.
When we walked through Wawa’s door, our hopes were modest. Yet after our meals, our hopes had been raised sky high. We understand now why loyal customers crave Wawa above all else: the quality, the choices, and the right price make Wawa second to none in the convenience store wars.
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