The Fascinating History of Wawa: From Snow Goose to Gas Station

The chain's name comes from the site of the company's first dairy plant and corporate headquarters in the Wawa, Pennsylvania area. The name of the city wawa is in turn derived from the word ojibwe wewe (pronounced way-way) which means snow goose, despite the company's image of a Canadian goose. Wawa is also a native Ojibwe word meaning “goose”. A half mile from the renewed Wawa celebrations, in a larger, newer Wawa with gas pumps outside and tables in the back, General Training Manager Denise Haley is overseeing operations. The Woods family, founders of the Wawa convenience store and gas station chain, had humble beginnings.

The family crossed paths with other local, politically connected dynasties; the chemically renowned du Ponts and the McNeils, of the Tylenol fortune, play secondary roles in Wawa's story. Last year, Gheysens oversaw the launch of an oil barge and tug boat to bring 7.8 million gallons of gas from the Gulf of Mexico to Florida stores three times a month. Its founder probably wouldn't recognize Wawa today, as it expands all over the East Coast and boldly tries to get out of the gas station ghetto to compete with companies like Panera, Starbucks and Sweetgreen. In an anecdote, Haley made a house visit to a regular, an 89-year-old woman who fell and contacted the Wawa for help, and drove her to the ER. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, a Wawa offers everything you would expect from a convenience store: snacks, lottery tickets, beverages, tobacco, gasoline (in most places), etc.

After decades of bringing cheap gasoline and cigarettes and made-to-order sandwiches to suburban crowds, Wawa is starting to emphasize two of the three. Current CEO Chris Gheysens is changing Tesla charging stations, kale salads and coffee in small batches, most of which customers can order on their phones (or on Wawa's ubiquitous touchscreens). Its distribution partner, McLane, runs what Wawa calls the supplier's only dedicated warehouse in the U. S. UU.

For the convenience store and gas station chain, what began as a geographical marker has become a deep part of the Wawa culture, said spokeswoman Lori Bruce. Every time a new location opens, a crowd gathers for an experience close to Mardi Gras, if the French Quarter had a bank of gas stations in the middle. From its humble beginnings as a dairy plant in Pennsylvania to its current status as one of America's most beloved convenience stores and gas stations chains, Wawa has come a long way.

Tristan Gagliardo
Tristan Gagliardo

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

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