A visitor from another planet–or from, say, Wales–might wonder why a gas station and convenience store would have the same effect on customers as (dare we say it?) a cultural force, with its own fan club, its own song, its own clothing line (well, t-shirts), that strange name evoking something between a baby’s wail and a Cherokee signal, and of course its own hoagie cult.
But that’s the inexplicable effect Wawa has, the effect it’s had locally since Palm Coast government revealed in 2016 that the first Wawa in Flagler could go up at the intersection of Bulldog Drive and State Road 100. The store was anticipated with something like reverential anxiety.
At 8 this morning, that store, with its hoagies, its coffees, its interiors lit brighter than the set of a sitcom, and of course its plexiglass and social distancing markers, in recognition of viral times, opened to the public after a softer, virtual ribbon cutting opening on Tuesday. Wawa didn’t exactly go out of its way to broadcast the grand opening, given the response such an announcement might have had in times when a 50-person crowd limit still applies in public places, and customers’ reactions to a prodigal opening could be unpredictable.
Nevertheless the parking lot was full today, though no one was quite rushing to get a taste of $1.99-a-gallon gas. The action was inside, with cops, civilians and the near-totality of nearby Flagler Palm Coast High School’s top team there for the occasion.
“It’s just been a staple for us up north,” Beverly Lietz, a former New Jersey resident in Palm Coast for the past five years, said as she prepared her coffee. “It wasn’t ever this big and it didn’t have as much, it’s evolved over the years. I had one down the street from my house, you got lunch meat, little sandwiches here and there, but it’s just evolved over the years. It’s reasonably priced. I used to go to Dunkin Donuts all the time to get coffee, and it was ridiculous how much it cost. Here it’s a different experience.” She said she’d been “waiting for five years for this to happen. I love it. I came by here last night and there was nothing outside, and I was like, I guess they’re not opening. But I came out to check, and here it was.”
Two days ago, Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland described the opening as “the most anticipated project here in our community in a long time, so our residents have been looking forward to this.” She said the store will fit in well with residents who’ve converged on Palm Coast from many areas that had Wawas in their communities. “I’m honored to build and present the ceremonial hoagie for the opening of our Wawa.” The mayor donned a red Wawa apron, gloves and mask and went to work preparing the mysteriously sought-after sub sandwich that took its nickname from the language of the Irish and Italian immigrant working class in the northeast.
The store, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, will employ 30 people in all, six of them full-timers, says Pat Liney, who’s opened some 14 Wawa stores, is managing the Palm Coast store and has lived locally two years.The company opened its first store in 1964. It opened its 900th today in Springfield, N.J., at the same time that it opened the Palm Coast store, which in company records is either the 899th or the 901st. Yesterday it opened a store in Gainesville. (The company got a bit of bad publicity this week when an employee in a South New Jersey store was forbidden from wearing a Black Lives Matter mask or leave. He left. The company says it supports the movement, within company-sanctioned uniform guidelines).
More planned stores for Flagler? As with everything else, the Covid pandemic has thrown any of those questions up in the air. This particular store was initially expected to open last July, but a series of design and construction delays and the pandemic pushed the opening to this week.
Mike Carragher started working at a Wawa store on a friend’s recommendation 30 years ago when he was a 17-year-old high school student, starting at $5.25 an hour, around the minimum wage at the time. (Store clerks start at $10.50 an hour today.)
“As I continued to work with the company I fell in love with it and decided to make a career out of it,” Carragher said today at the Palm Coast opening. He was general manager for 17 years and a district manager for five. The Palm Coast store is the 11th in his district (districts have between eight and 14 stores), with seven in Volusia, two in Sanford and one in Lake Mary–what adds up to some 300 employees.
As for that teddy bear effect Wawa has on customers–the comfort they get from its presence, the familiarity, the giddiness–“I think it’s our food service offer,” Carragher said, “it’s all built to order food, it’s all customized, it’s fresh, it;s a high quality QSR food option with a one-stop shop convenience of fuel.” (QSR is the industry acronym for Quick Service Food Restaurant, itself a more bowtied way of saying fast food).
From what the mayor tells us there’s a lot of transplants from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware that know us already,” says Steve Hasher, director of store operations in Florida. The store opening at 8 was a modest moment of applause and a little celebratory noisemaking before a group of customers were let in. Tom Russell, FPC’s principal, was outside with members of his staff and Joe Rizzo, the executive director of the Flagler Education Foundation, the school district’s non-profit arm.
“Wawa is supporting our flagship fire academy, which is really great,” Russell said. “I just wanted to come over and introduce my two AP’s and myself. We just want to be good neighbors. We have 2,700 students and I’m sure they’re going to frequent here, we just want to build relationships with local businesses.” Expect some Wawa catering across the street. He was there with assistant principals Kerri Sands, Kiera Roe and Abude Koushajky. Wawa donated backpacks to the fire academy participants in certain competitions and donated $1,000. Wawa also presented the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office three large boxes full of “Hoagies for Heroes” at Tuesday’s soft opening, and a $1,000 donation to the Flagler Sheriff’s Employee Assistance Trust fund.
FPC’s students and staff amount to a small city across the street from Wawa, but Russell isn;t expecting the store to affect attendance that much. “Here’s the thing,” he said, “we don’t allow students to go off campus for lunch. They’ll be here in the morning and after school.”
Keep Flagler Beautiful says
Love Wawa! There’s no place else like it.
Employees can’t Express themselves. Slaves on the clock…Uniform policies supersede current daily events. Shameful Company. BLM
Mike Brady says
What company would where employees that work with the public are allowed to wear controversial clothing? Employees are free to express themselves on their own time. ALM, WRM.
Bill C says
See, Mike here is where we have problems. I agree no controversial clothing should be worn in the workplace. When I was head of a 20 person unit that was the policy. But, your throwing in ALM was not only unnecessary but it showed your lack of understanding of the current situation in our country and you also seem to not understand the correct interpretation of BLM. You threw that in just to stir the pot, right?
Christopher T Lemke says
WAWA is not a sounding board for anyone’s personal issues. Every employee is there because of his/her own free will, and is well paid to do so. Do your research and you find that WAWA is a family owned business who, along with Sheetz, has contributed a lot to the well being of many underprivileged people. Slogans benefit noone.If you feel so strongly about employees expressing their political views, go ahead and start a quality company where the employees would be free to express their personal view. Let me know how that works out. Sad.
Bread. Bread. Bread. It’s all about the bread. The Delaware Valley has the best bread around and the Amoroso’s rolls–nothing else comes close. The roast beef sandwiches are delicious. The broccoli and cheddar soup is divine. The coffee is some of the smoothest around. Even the ice cream beats some of the other top brands. It’s hard for a non-Delaware Valley person to understand the obsession. It’s kind of like grits, I’ll never get it, but hey it works for many, and reminds them of their childhood. This is a little piece of home and a mainstay from my college years.
Yes agree aa a former Bucks County resident
Bread Bread Bread makes any humble sandwich the star!
I highly recommend the tuna sub!
Sheri Bowie says
I am thrilled that WaWa has opened. My only concern was that there might be a problem with traffic on 100 when people are exiting the parking lot. The right turn lane to Bulldog is after people coming out of WaWa. Well, this problem already happened to me this morning. A car was coming out to get on 100 and pulled out and was totally blocking the entire right turn lane, and the turn to get on Bulldog is right after. I think that this will probably cause accidents as this almost happened to me this morning.
CB from PC says
WAWA is way better than the norm with PA quality meats and cheeses. Coffee, soups pastries, salads, soups etc. that are fresh.
Once you eat here, that other slop at gas convenience stores may as well be shit on a shingle.
Now, if they only served Yuengling.
Willy Boy says
30 years, $5.25 to $10.50. Price of everything else has more than doubled.
I just want to make sure you understood those numbers. He started 30 years ago at $5.25, but in 1990 the minimum wage was $3.80.
The current starting wage in the article is $10.50. But current minimum wage, federally is $7.25. Florida’s minimum wage is slightly higher at $8.56. —- The point of this response is, minimum wage has not, even a little bit, kept up with inflation over the decades.
But kudos to Wawa that 30 years ago they hired him at above minimum wage. And they’re currently hiring at above minimum wage. 👍
Maria C silva says
Beautiful love these ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
I hope that this wawa is different than the one I have been to in PA. When my Mom was alive we went to visit her and every experience I had at wawa was miserable,however ,I will admit that the wawa in Pa we went to had nothing but inbred mountain people working there .I will give this new wawa a chance and hope for the best.
I’m from Philly and love WaWas!
They have everything you want somehow and it seems fresher. And it’s a piece of home.
Maria Davis says
So glad Wawa is here! I would say highly anticipated instead of weirdly revered. Good food, good employees.
Philly Special says
#10 Italian wid oil, LTO. salt and oregano with sweet and hots on the side
Chicken Corn Chowder here I come! So glad they finally opened here. Been waiting so long watching all the other Wawas opening in all the other areas. Just wish they could have Wawa dairy products down here. Thank you Wawa for coming to this town, finally
Donna B. says
Grew up down the street from the 1st ever Wawa in Folsom, PA. To those from Delaware County PA, Wawa is a birthright. So very happy to be able to order a meatball sandwich with Herr’s chips today! Thank you for bringing this slice of heaven to Palm Coast!
Derrick Redder says
Everyone likes the nice shinny things.
Think about this land. How much did it cost to buy ? Then how much did it cost us the property tax payers to sell after lawsuits that should not have happened.
I think Waawhatever with it’s standard entry level jobs that pay just as well should afford each resident property tax payer a 10% discount and seniors, vets and the disabled 20% .
J. T. says
Us students at FPC have been anticipating this since my freshman year, now going into junior year. They are going to make alot of money in the morning and after school, going to waea for a mango cream smoothie was a must when I attended UCF games, now to have one around the corner is gonna be sick!
Name (required) says
Laughably, These NE folks revere any semblance of their old home-field fares as if it were A biblical affair. It’s like a feeling that their “desperately to be justified” presence here in good ole transient nor’easterner Village called Palm coast, is finally legitimized. Maybe the simplicity of the name is what makes it so popular. Easy to say and it sounds adorable. Watching people go gaga over gas station coffee and sandwiches makes me wonder, is it really that great, or is it more simply, Jersey/PA gentrification? “Whaddyalookinat! And fugghetaboutit” bootlicking, herd fellowship, is a big thing here in Flagler county. Truly, The actual locals just can’t seem to get enough! Lol. All I can say, having met a good sample of these Nouveau “locals,” and dealt with their complete and total lack of social grace, politeness and courtesy overall (or ability to drive like a sober, sane person,) I’ll not set foot in this place. Ever. People actually Do notice the stark difference between this area and surrounding towns, (it’s odd.) So, Sort your priorities maybe, especially when youve so blatantly lacked such a commitment to your actual, local community. Maybe even take that same pride and fervency about a gas station, and devote time toward your local presence and put forth some diligence toward something actually legitimate or even righteous for once. Please.
Rich H says
Look out, I see another 4 month 4 moratorium coming by you know who!
Christopher T Lemke says
WAWA! Nobody even comes close! Bravo!
Love Wawa here in Pennsylvania and will love the visits in Florida now the Wawa is local and think it’s normal to be near one and have the sun shining so much….. think I’ll move to Florida at retirement time!
Good luck Florida you deserve the Wawa experience that we have up here!
Your mother says
You folks are excited because the eats at Wawa are better than the other gas stations? Get yourselves a real diet and a life. If you love it so much, it’s been in Daytona for years. Besides, who eats at a gas station? Oh, overweight people with diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
Pop Pop says
Like WaWa ‘s but they need to keep outside by tables cleaner and around coffee bar clean. Seems every time we go it’s seems to be getting worse. Disappointed 😡