Wawa Isn't Just a Convenience Store, It's a Lifestyle

Part of life in Philadelphia and environs for generations, Wawa is—quite suddenly—cropping up all over. (We couldn't be happier.)

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Photo: The Washington Post / Getty Images

The first time you go to Wawa for a hoagie, you will probably be impressed, but you will also be overwhelmed—and that's before you finish ordering your sandwich.

Touchscreen ordering, now popular at more than a few convenience stores around the country, reaches new peaks of excellence at Wawa, the Philadelphia-area institution that's known to inspire a kind of fanaticism among its followers.

Personalization is so encouraged here, it's almost daunting, from the many kind of spreads and sauces to the generous selection of cheeses, to luxury add-ons like avocado, or bacon. Even if you've been to Wawa before, you can end up lost in a customization loop, presented with so many options, so many ways to jazz up your meal, you'll be shocked at the end to discover, once you get there, that after all that, you'll typically spend less than $6 on a 10-inch sandwich.

And that's if you even want a sandwich—as you'll have learned, on your way down the touchscreen rabbit hole, there's so much else you can order. Soups, bowl meals, complete breakfasts, fancy coffee drinks—who knew they had a whole restaurant back there, behind the deli counter?

That's Wawa. On the surface, yet another convenience store, but in reality, a clown car of a thing, packing an almost astonishing variety of offerings into a relatively modest store. Whatever you need, it's probably somewhere in here, and probably at a pretty good price. No wonder people love it so much. Count us among them, and here are just a few reasons why.

The food is actually really good. We won't call out the others by name, but there are plenty of convenience stores that would like you think of them as a great place to eat. Very few of them merit a serious look—Wawa, on the other hand, manages to not only make good food, but food that's actually craveable. On their best day, most of the sub chains can't top, for example, Wawa's tuna hoagie on whole wheat, to which—if you'll smart—you'll add cheddar cheese and pickled jalapeno peppers. It's heaven, for a few bucks. (Definitely get it toasted.)

The breakfast is strangely compelling. Once again, everyone wants in on the breakfast sandwich game. Wawa comes at the morning meal all kinds of ways—you can touchscreen order a pretty kickass breakfast burrito, they do egg-based bowls, there are, of course, all sorts of pastries. But for whatever reason, the thing we go back to again and again is the Sizzli, Wawa's modest but tasty breakfast sandwiches, for just a little over $3. You can almost feel the anticipation as the Sizzli specialist brings out a new basket of freshly made sandwiches, ranging from sausage, egg and cheese on a croissant to pork roll, egg and cheese on a bagel. The hash browns are really good, too—slap one on your sandwich for a decadent beginning to your day.

The coffee can be spectacular. Make a beeline for the Cuban Roast, one of the smoothest, best-tasting coffees you'll ever buy in a gas station. If you're not convinced, that's cool, because most Wawa locations will have a stash of little cups on offer, to encourage unlimited sampling. Chances are, you'll never want Dunkin' Donuts again.

The junk food game is exceptionally tight. This comes as no surprise, considering that Southeastern Pennsylvania is one of the world's junk food capitals—let's start with the giant, soft and almost bagel-chewy malt bombs that are Wawa's Philadelphia-style pretzels, baked fresh and sold for $1.19. (They feed two, or will, once you see the sodium count.) Tastykakes, that other regional specialty, pretty much have their own aisle in each store, and there always seem to be great deals going, too good, in fact—does anyone need two Tastykake chocolate pies, two for $2? No, no they do not.

Which brings us to the deals. It seems like they're always doing big discounts on something, somewhere. Hoagiefest is perhaps Wawa's biggest sale of the year, with a slew of its 10-inch sandwiches on sale for just $4.99. Then there was the time, recently, that they did two Sizzli sandwiches for $3.33. Or the whole month (or at least it felt like it), where you could get any size coffee for just $1. Right now, if you buy two half-gallons of their corn syrup-free iced teas for $2.09 each, you get a third for $1. Pints of their flavored milks (try the Dutch Chocolate, it's terrific) are just $1. It's not on sale, but their pints of ice cream (did you know that Wawa began life as a dairy, over 100 years ago?) at $3.95 each are one of the best deals going.

You can eat healthy, too. While a lot of things on the menu here might sound like a college student's dream come true, one of the great secrets of Wawa is just how much healthy food it puts out, and just how good that food is. From a competent superfood salad for $5.99 to a hummus and pita combo for $3.09, to breakfast yogurt parfaits topped with fresh cut fruit, snack-size portions of cut watermelon or mango for a couple of bucks, Wawa seems almost slavishly committed to proving to its customers that it can be all things to all people. Usually, that's a recipe for disaster, or, at the very least, mediocrity. Not here. Never here.

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