March 15, 2022
Wawa has long since left the stage of its development when cult-like shoppers from the Philadelphia area preached to visitors about their morning Sizzlis, lemon iced tea and soft pretzels.
In Forbes' annual ranking of the nation's largest private companies, Wawa rose to first in Pennsylvania and 29th in the United States last year. The company has been featured on ABC's "The Goldbergs" and became a talking point around HBO's "Mare of Easttown," whose costume designs were partly inspired by Wawa shoppers.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, you're now more likely to hear people complain on Reddit about how Wawa isn't what it was in 1997 and that they now only go there three times a week instead of 10.
What makes Wawa's story compelling in 2022 is to consider just how big the Delaware County-based company might become down the line.
In the not-too-distant future, Wawa has plans in place to expand to its seventh state, North Carolina.
Charlotte news station WSOC reported that the company confirmed it will open stores in North Carolina beginning in 2024. Wawa could not confirm any specific locations, but said it is actively looking at sites.
"We couldn't be more excited to bring Wawa's one-of-a-kind brand and offering to this market in the near future," Wawa spokesperson Lori Bruce said. "We look forward to serving the community with our quality fresh food and beverages and, as always, our deep commitment to the communities in which we operate."
Wawa currently operates about 900 stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Florida and Washington, D.C. The company generated about $11 billion in revenue in 2020 — which was actually down during the pandemic — and had a workforce of about 38,000 employees. Much of the growth has been fueled by the expansion of the company's Super Wawa gas stations, which represent about half of Wawa's stores.
Sheetz, the central Pennsylvania-based rival to Wawa, already has more than 100 locations in North Carolina. Wawa will have some catching up to do in terms of brand equity.
For North Carolinians who need a basic primer:
• Wawa's name comes from the Native American word for the Canada Goose in flight.
• The company was founded as a dairy farm and processing plant in the early 20th century, thriving as a milk delivery business until it began opening stores to adapt to a changing market in the 1960s.
• Wawa is best-known for its made-to-order sandwiches, hoagies, bowls, sides, coffee and specialty drinks, which are all available around the clock at the majority of store locations. The hot breakfast items, including Sizzli sandwiches, are served pre-made during the morning hours.
• It's a great option for something quick, comparatively cheap and potentially healthier than most other takeout and fast-food options.
It's not hard to envision Wawa spanning an ever-growing territory in the U.S. in the next 20 years, or maybe even opening novelty outposts in places like London or Hong Kong. That might sound like a stretch today, but there was a time when 7-Eleven was the humble "Tote'm Stores" in the Dallas area in the 1920's. It now has more than 78,000 stores in 19 states and territories.