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Wawa opens its first drive-thru: Shortis and coffee on the go

Wawa has one other drive-thru opening planned for January and is looking at five to 10 more next year.

Wawa's mascot Wally Goose serves coffee to Jim Pilla, left, on opening day of Wawa’s first drive-thru store, in Westampton, N.J.
Wawa's mascot Wally Goose serves coffee to Jim Pilla, left, on opening day of Wawa’s first drive-thru store, in Westampton, N.J.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

If you love Wawa’s food but hate other customers always politely holding the door open or you don’t like playing Frogger with your life in the parking lots, then Westampton, N.J., has a store for you.

On Friday, Wawa opened its first drive-thru store in this Burlington County town to customers who were so excited that some tried to go through the drive-thru as the grand opening news conference was being held next to it.

The store, the 35th new Wawa this year and the 917th in the chain, wasn’t originally intended to be a drive-thru, but when COVID-19 and quarantine hit in March as construction was getting underway, it was the perfect opportunity to test the concept, said Terri Micklin, Wawa’s director of construction.

“We had talked about a drive-thru for many years and we had worked on it, but it really just became the catalyst to accelerate this and bring it to market as quickly as possible,” Micklin said. “We quickly saw the need to reach our customers a little differently and give them a chance to experience Wawa while staying in their car.”

The drive-thru, which is attached to a full-service Wawa and will rotate between breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus, offers a limited option of items (and combos), which are based on the store’s most popular menu offerings, like Sizzlis, Shortis, burgers and fries. Other items, like sourdough melts and pitas, aren’t available at the drive-thru and be forewarned — only the rolls can be toasted for the hoagies ordered there, not the entire sandwich.

Other items that Wawa sells, like gallons of milk, Krimpets, and Peanut Chews (the staples of any well-balanced Philly-area diet), are not available at the drive-thru either.

“The drive-thru is primarily about convenience and speed of service, and if we made the entire offer available it would be hard to be able to meet the metrics for speed of service and convenience,” said Michael Sherlock, Wawa senior vice president and chief marketing officer.

A second drive-thru Wawa is slated to open in Falls Township, Bucks County, in mid-January, but that will be a standalone drive-thru-only with the 1,800-square-foot interior set up like a commercial kitchen, Micklin said. For the first time since Wawa opened its doors, it will be a store without doors for the public to go through.

Brian Schaller, Wawa’s chief real estate officer, said the chain hopes to open another five to 10 drive-thru stores next year.

“We’ll really regroup after that to see the results and see what we could do better,” Schaller said. “This could be several hundred stores at our best-case scenario.”

Reaction to news of Wawa’s first drive-thru ran the gamut on social media Friday, with some calling it “truly a historic moment,” “a dream come true,” and “game-changing,” while others said, “This is just lazy,” “The end times is near,” and there’s “something inherently un-wawa about a Wawa drive-thru.”

What was, without a doubt, very Wawa about the drive-thru was the grand opening of it. As store associates and Wally, Wawa’s giant goose mascot, awaited a ribbon cutting in a convenience store parking lot in 30-degree weather, they began doing the Cupid Shuffle.

And when it was time for the first cars to be served, Wally manned the window, placing his tummy outside to rest it on the ledge.

While Wawa was birthed and remains based in Delaware County, the chain actually has more stores in New Jersey (260) than in any other state, though Pennsylvania comes in at a close second with 242.

But not all New Jersey Wawas have been received as warmly as the drive-thru one. A Wawa proposed in Mount Laurel, N.J., next door to a family-owned gas station, has raised the ire of some residents, who believe it could spell doomsday for the existing gas station, which has been in business 50 years.

Next year, Wawa plans to open 45 to 62 new stores across the regions it already serves, which also include Florida, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

While the chain has no plans to expand beyond its current marketplaces, that didn’t stop people from Colorado to California from begging Wawa to come to their region when they learned about the drive-thru on social media Friday. (One person even offered to do a trade for an In-N-Out Burger drive-thru).

One person who was decidedly not impressed by the opening, however, was Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor and noted Sheetz diehard John Fetterman, who actively trolled coverage of the Wawa opening on Twitter Friday. (He really is Shmuffin!)

But for Sean Cohen, 29, of Ventnor, N.J., who has been visiting Wawas his entire life, Friday’s opening is the stuff that dreams are made of.

“As a kid we used to talk about how crazy it would be if Wawa had delivery or drive thru,” he said on Twitter. “We truly live in a magical world.”