In 2015, a study confirmed what many convenience store shoppers already knew: Wawa is the best. Seven thousand consumers, polled by Market Force, gave Wawa a "composite loyalty score" of 68 percent, ahead of other stores like QuikTrip (62 percent) and Sheetz (59 percent). It also nabbed the top spot in the fresh food category.
Whether you're a daily Wawa customer or have only heard stories about the convenience store chain that counts Oscar-winner Kate Winslet among its fans, here are some things you might not have known about the absolute best place on Earth to buy a hoagie, iced tea, and Tastykakes.
1. Wawa was founded more than 200 years ago—as an iron factory.
Though the first Wawa store was opened in 1964 in Folsom, Pennsylvania, the company actually has more than 200 years of history. It began in 1803 as a New Jersey iron factory and was incorporated in 1865 as the Millville Manufacturing Company. Then, in 1902, Millville's owner George Wood opened up a milk processing plant in Wawa, Pennsylvania. (The cows for the plant came from the English Channel island of Guernsey.)
2. "Doctor certified" milk was a key to Wawa's early success.
In the early 1900s, many children were becoming sick from drinking raw milk, so Wood had doctors vouch for his product. The "doctor certified" milk, delivered directly to a customer's home, made the business a huge success.
3. Being allowed to remain open on Sundays helped Wawa's business boom.
The stores were successful in part because convenience stores were exempt from laws that kept other stores closed on Sundays.
4. The very first Wawa store remained open for more than 50 years.
As the milk delivery business dwindled in the 1960s, Wood's grandson, Grahame, noticed that customers were shopping more at supermarkets, and thought Wawa could distribute its products that way. The first Wawa Food Market opened at 1212 MacDade Boulevard in Folsom, Pennsylvania, on April 16, 1964 and remained in operation until June 2016—a full 52 years. Pretty impressive.
5. Wawa's business grew quickly.
In 1964, Wawa debuted its first store. By 1972, there were 100 Wawa stores open for business. By 1992, there were 500 stores. Today, there are more than 850 Wawa stores (more than 600 of which have a gas station).
6. Wawa is an Ojibwe word.
Wawa is Ojibwe for Canada Goose.
7. You might be mispronouncing Wawa.
Want to pronounce "Wawa" correctly? It rhymes with Saw Saw, according to locals.
8. Wawa has undergone a number of slogan changes.
These days, Wawa's slogan is "Gottahava Wawa," but past slogans include "Mama I Luv Wawa," "People on the Go, Go to Wawa," "My Choice, My Wawa," and "We Do it Better."
9. Wawa sells a lot of hoagies.
Wawa's stores—located in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Florida—sell more than 60 million made-to-order hoagies annually.
10. Coffee is a hot seller at Wawa, too.
Wawa brews more than 195 million cups of coffee each year. That signature coffee, introduced in the 1970s, is proprietary, and available only in Wawa stores.
11. People love their Wawa.
In 2009, five West Chester women completed a two-year quest to visit every Wawa then in existence. The New York Times Magazine asked if the chain was a "Convenience Cult." And Jackass star Johnny Knoxville has a Wawa tattoo, which he got thanks to "whiskey and adrenaline."
12. Kate Winslet really loves Wawa.
In 2021, HBO premiered Mare of Easttown, a limited series crime-drama that takes place in Pennsylvania and, yes, where the characters—including Winslet's—are seen indulging in (and even talking about) their Wawa coffee from time to time. Fans of the convenience store chain turned the store into its own character, and even Winslet had a few things to say about the storied convenience store. In an interview with "The Envelope," the Los Angeles Times's podcast, the Oscar-winner described her first encounter with Wawa:
"It almost felt like a mythical place ... By the time I got there, I was like, ‘It’s real!’ Walking into a Wawa ultimately felt like, it was kind of an honor, in a funny way, because to me that was the heart of Delco. So to finally walk through the door of a Wawa; I don’t know why I felt like, ‘Oh, yes, I’m here, I belong. This is where it’s at. Wawa.'"
Wawa had some major love for Winslet, too. To celebrate the opening of a new store in Delaware County, where the series was shot, Wawa declared June 10, 2021 "Mare of Easttown Day" at its stores. And created a limited-time Mare of Easttown Spicy Cheesesteak to go with it.
13. Wawa, Pennsylvania is located in two places at once.
Half of the town of Wawa, Pennsylvania, is in Middletown, and half of it is in Chester Heights, the official location of the company's headquarters. According to a 1989 Philadelphia Inquirer article, "Estimates of those who do live in Wawa range from about five families ... to 265 families. ... 'No one's ever drawn a line on a map saying this is where Wawa begins and ends,' explained W. Bruce Clark, Middletown's then-manager."
A version of this story ran in 2018; it has been updated for 2021.