What is Wawa Short For? An Expert's Perspective

Founded in 1964 by Grahame Wood, Dick's once-ousted first cousin, Wawa began as a roadside dairy market in suburban Philadelphia. Its founder probably wouldn't recognize Wawa today, as it expands all over the East Coast and boldly attempts to break out of the gas station ghetto to compete with companies like Panera, Starbucks and Sweetgreen. WAVE - WAVE - WAVY - WAW - WAW - WAWB - WAWC - WAWD - WAWE. The convenience store and gas station chain known as Wawa opened its first store with that name on April 16, 1964 in Folsom, Pennsylvania. And according to Tim Wright of New Mexico State University, birds, like people, have dialects, and “Wawa” is what yellow-naped Amazon parrots (Amazona auropalliata) in northern Costa Rica croak at each other when they gather.

But it really dates back to 1902, when Grahame's grandfather, George Wood, opened the Wawa dairy farm, which would eventually supply that store. And the Wood family together control about 725 acres (293 ha) of land, containing the corporate headquarters, the Wawa dairy farm, and J. Constantly, adds Rich, who left a position at Coca-Cola and spent two years working shifts at Wawa stores 24 hours a day before his father let him into the headquarters. One recent day, an employee offers flavors of the sesame seed hoagie rolls that she is rigorously comparing, before the beverage expert at Wawa takes me through a small batch tasting, the equivalent of a coffee snob's wine tasting. Following Wawa's long-standing commitment to touchscreen ordering, Gheysens has introduced mobile ordering and delivery, through a partnership with Grubhub.

But many of his efforts were internal, incremental; Gheysens points to the most visible aspects of Wawa's identity and fiercely loved identity: its commitment to customer service. The Canadian goose makes a sound similar to wawa, so it is possible that both the word ojibwa wawa and the French word l'oie are based on the honking characteristic of the goose. That is beginning to become evident throughout the Wawa empire, including in the shiny new complex that looms over Red Roof, the family's century-old estate at Wawa headquarters. After decades of selling cheap gasoline and cigarettes and made-to-order sandwiches to suburban crowds, Wawa is starting to shift its focus away from these two aspects. Although Wawa is a family business, Wawa associates own approximately 50% of the company, more than 40% of which is owned by the company's employee stock ownership program. In the early 2000s, Dick also gave interviews for articles that named his nephew, the then president and chief financial officer of Wawa, Thère du Pont — yes, one of those du Ponts — as his successor. With the fall of the milk delivery business in the early 1960s, the company moved to Wawa stores and the Palm Coast store opened on June 18 coinciding with the opening of its 900th store in New Jersey on the same day.

My parents from the Midwest moved to Delaware County in Pennsylvania — home to both the Wawa headquarters and many of its stores — when I was 6 years old. Like Wegmans or In-N-Out Burger, Wawa is often described as a cult brand — a regional player confined to a narrow niche in the Mid-Atlantic region. But this description does not do justice to its growing presence across multiple states or its ambition to become more than just a gas station chain. It is clear that Wawa has come a long way since its humble beginnings as a roadside dairy market in suburban Philadelphia. With its commitment to customer service and innovative mobile ordering technology, it is no wonder why this convenience store chain has become so beloved by customers across multiple states.

Tristan Gagliardo
Tristan Gagliardo

Proud social media ninja. Bacon expert. Unapologetic gamer. Proud zombie nerd. Freelance pop culture scholar.

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