By Erin Rigik, Senior Editor / News & Online.
Wawa’s 50th Anniversary celebration kicked off at 6 a.m. at the first Wawa store ever built, located at 1212 MacDade Blvd., Folsom, Pa., which first opened its doors 50 years ago on April 16, 1964.
Even at such an early hour, the store was packed with Wawa enthusiasts and loyal customers, excited to enjoy a free cup of coffee and celebrate 50 years with the chain.
Wawa’s Chairman Dick Wood, Wawa’s Former President and CEO and Current Vice Chairman Howard Stoeckel, and Chris Gheysens, Wawa’s president and CEO, along with state and local officials poured the first ceremonial free cups of coffee (free in all stores chain-wide, all sizes, all day). Wawa expected to give away a million cups of coffee throughout the day.
As he addressed the crowd, Wood recalled a few harrowing anecdotes from the day the first Wawa store opened. The night before opening day, someone turned off the ice cream case along with the lights. Quoting Founder Graham Wood, he said, “When we arrived in the morning and looked at our shiny new ice cream case, the ice cream was all over the place. Breyers came to the rescue, and with our ice cream case restored we opened our doors to the public,” he said. “Our first customer was a lady who bought a gallon of ice cream, which was selling for 99 cents, and I took her $1 bill, but in my excitement in the moment I rang up her purchase for $99 instead of 99 cents,” Wood laughed.
Luckily, it was smooth sailing after that. The first day’s sales closed with $356.86, Wood said.
Wood told CSD that 50 years ago, he couldn’t begin to envision what Wawa has become today. “I didn’t know 50 years ago that we would be sitting here ordering food off of touchscreens,” he said. “It’s been an evolution. Right now we know by the end of this year we will put out a Wawa app and people will be able to order and pay off their smartphones, so it’s all an evolution. I don’t know what it will look like 50 years from now,” said Wood. “I’m so happy for all our employees and customers who are celebrating our 50th Anniversary with us today. We’re serving 1,250,000 customers every day, so they are all part of this, so I’d say Wawa has touched a lot of lives.”
Wood unveiled a plaque dedicated to Wawa Founder Grahame Wood.
Wawa is well known for its high quality foodservice, which continues to grow and evolve with the times. The chain’s 640 c-stores offer Wawa brands, such as built-to-order Hoagies, freashly-brewed coffee, the “Sizzli”—a hot breakfast sandwich, soups, sides and snacks, Wawa wraps, and a full line of hot, iced and frozen specialty beverages. “We’re becoming more of a restaurant to go. Customers continue to be time starved and as other commodities slow down, foodservice has become much more of a driver. If you look at our new stores, we’re much more like a restaurant. And that’s our future—restaurant to go,” Stoeckel told CSD.
“Wawa has come a long way, and that’s because of you,” Stoeckel told the crowd. “We have 22,000 associates who make Wawa very special. They make Wawa a living brand.”
Stoeckel unveiled the book he wrote, The Wawa Way, during the celebration. The book is now on sale through Amazon.com and in all Wawa stores. The book chronicles the stories, events, customers and associates, that have defined the last 50 years, and illuminates Wawa’s secrets for success. “It talks about our 50 year journey. But we’re 50 years young today, not 50 years old, and I truly believe the best is yet to come and there will be many, many more chapters written about you and about Wawa,” Stoeckel told the crowd.
Wawa also hosted a celebration later in the morning at its Wawa store at 17th & Arch, in Philadelphia, where Mayor Michael Nutter was on hand to proclaim April 16 “Wawa Day” in the City of Philadelphia. “Wawa is a fixture in the Philadelphia region and an extraordinary corporate citizen,” noted Mayor Nutter.
Customers enjoyed Wawa birthday cake with their free coffee, and even received free t-shirts and Wawa buttons to wear during the celebration. Wawa’s mascot Wally Goose was also on hand, as well as special guest Ben Franklin who offered a special toast to Wawa.
Gheysens noted that the turnout of customers was for the celebration was even better than expected. “It’s amazing. I think free coffee at Wawa in Philadelphia is just a wonderful thing.”
Among the customers was Lucy Harrison, who remembers watching the first Wawa store being built. Her first Wawa purchase 50 years ago was a quart of milk, and she’s been buying milk—and other products—at Wawa ever since. “The doctor told me, ‘I want you to drink Wawa milk three times a day,’” she said, “and I told him I already do. I’m here shopping at Wawa at least six days a week. Everybody here is so wonderful. I don’t know what I would do without my Wawa,” she told CSD.
• Wawa serves more than 400 million customers annually
• Wawa brews more than 195 million cups of its award-winning coffee each year.
• Wawa builds more than 70 million built-to-order hoagies annually—enough to stretch between Tampa, Fla. And Wawa, Pa. more than five times.
• Wawa is the Lenni-Lenape name for a Canada Goose. Over 100 years ago, Wawa’s original dairy farm was built on land in a rural section of Pennsylvania called Wawa, which was named from a local Native American tribe in honor of their favorite game—the Canada Goose.