Wawa is coming to Alabama. So what’s a Wawa?

Wawa is coming to Alabama! So what’s a Wawa? And will people get as excited as they did when Buc-ee’s set its sights on the state?

The first question is fairly easy to answer. Wawa is a food market/gas station chain that started with a dairy market in 1964 in the Pennsylvania town of Wawa. It’s a privately held company with more than 950 stores, mostly in East Coast states. The company’s announcement on Monday that it plans a rapid expansion into the Florida Panhandle and Lower Alabama represents a big move into new territory, as the company reaches toward the central Gulf Coast.

As for the second, we’ll see. Monday’s news piqued the interest of Alabama residents who’ve had the Wawa experience while traveling. The chain definitely has its partisans.

“Why Are People So Obsessed With Wawa?” asks a headline at Answer: The coffee’s good and cheap, the food includes a lot of healthy options, the stores are clean and the service is good.

“Wawa Isn’t Just a Convenience Store, It’s a Lifestyle,” proclaims “The first time you go to Wawa for a hoagie, you will probably be impressed, but you will also be overwhelmed… 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.” Also “the breakfast is strangely addictive,” “the coffee can be spectacular,” and frequent special offers sweeten the deal.

“11 Reasons Wawa Is America’s Best Convenience Store,” offers Business Insider. “Wawa is America’s Best Convenience Store,” proclaims Inc Magazine has described the company as “the Beloved $10 Billion Convenience Store Taking Over the East Coast.”

In sum: The coffee’s great, the hoagies rule, the food selection in general is fabulous, the stores are clean and super-efficient. But behind that, there’s a distinctive corporate culture. Wawa probably is the only convenience store chain that celebrates both a “Dairy Heritage” and a “Social Purpose.” The latter includes the statement that “We believe we play a larger role in the lives of those we serve that transcends our commitment to convenience and satisfaction. Our core purpose is to go beyond filling customer orders to Fulfilling Lives, Every Day.”

As with most any major corporation, there have been issues: Class-action suits over how the chain’s founding family allegedly muscled employee shareholders out of their holdings resulted in a $25 million settlement in 2018 and another $21.6 million settlement in 2020. There was also a customer data breach in 2019 that resulted in a settlement of $9 million in cash and gift cards to customers.

When will the Mobile are get its first Wawa? Not right away. Monday’s announcement is pretty vague, really: It says that Wawa plans to make its move into the region “over the next few years,” with the first of up to 40 stores opening in 2024.

The announcement says that the chain is “actively looking into potential sites for new stores” in several markets, including Pensacola and Mobile. They probably are not kidding about the “active” part, because devotes a LOT of space to real estate acquisition. Got a patch of property you think would be a good place for a Wawa? Submit it here. Want to know why Wawa isn’t jumping at your offer? Check the FAQ.

One interesting note — Wawa typically is looking for a two-acre site for a store with eight pumps and a 24-hour food store. They favor places with nearby residential population and employment centers, but don’t prioritize interstate access. (In other words, it’s a completely different business model from Buc-ee’s.)

It likely will be a while before we know when and where Wawa will open the doors of its first Alabama stores. But the hoagies are coming.

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