There are some debates that never feel quite settled. Kobe vs. Jordan. Janet vs. Whitney. Cats vs. dogs. And in Pennsylvania, we have the age-old fight over which regional 24-hour convenience store is tops: western Pennsylvania‘s Sheetz vs. southeastern Pennsylvania‘s Wawa. It’s been called “the most heated food rivalry in the country.”
There’s no question that Pennsylvania — and the country as a whole — is facing major crises right now that deserve solutions and scrutiny. But as Pennsylvanians, there are some battles, minor though they may seem, that we will choose to fight alongside everything else that is happening in our backyards and beyond. The Inquirer tapped two homegrown experts — Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and U.S. Rep. Brendan F. Boyle — to explain why their respective loyalties run so deep.
By Brendan F. Boyle
After four decades as a long-suffering Philly sports fan, it was one of my happiest moments. The Eagles had just upset Minnesota to win the NFC Championship and go to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, I was stuck in Washington, as Congress was in a rare Sunday session. Unable to celebrate with my fellow Eagles fans at home, I did the next best thing. I went to Wawa.
Months earlier, I had helped cut the ribbon on Wawa’s first store in D.C. We joked that it was the “Philly Embassy in Washington.” Sure enough, as I approached the D.C. Wawa right after the game, the crowd of people wearing Eagles jerseys was out the door. The Philly diaspora had had the same thought I did. We flocked to our “embassy” to celebrate. Every 30 seconds, a different Eagles chant or the fight song broke out.
Wawa is more than just a convenience store. When I see a Wawa, I think Philly. I think home.
When I’m driving back home from D.C., I purposely wait for my pit stop until I get to the first exit with a Wawa nearby.
Sadly, not everyone in our state gets to live near a Wawa. These poor misguided souls, therefore, may think there’s a better option than Wawa, such as Sheetz. It’s hard to understand their mentality. But they are to be pitied, not scorned.
Granted, the folks at Sheetz Inc. do a fantastic job. Founded in 1952, Sheetz currently has more than 21,000 employees and reports $7 billion in annual revenue. Sheetz is a true Keystone State success story.
But let’s be clear: between Wawa and Sheetz, there is simply no competition.
Wawa’s mascot is a goose. Geese are strong, resilient, and loud, much like my fellow Philadelphians. I’m not so sure what Sheetz’s mascot exactly is upon first gaze, but somehow Wilford Brimley comes to mind. What are they selling at Sheetz, Red Bulls or retirement packages?
Wawa operates convenience stores at more than 850 locations. Sheetz? Just 500 stores. Sad.
One of Wawa’s most popular desserts is simply named “Dirt Cup.” That’s some raw Keystone State confidence right there. It’s a delicious delight of crushed cookies and pudding that eases the burden of many a weary driver, or it can silence the cacophonous cries of kid contingents in the back seats of minivans across the Mid-Atlantic.
Good luck achieving that result with “Boom-Boom Sauce” — a Sheetz exclusive product, and its most popular condiment. What in the world is in Boom-Boom Sauce? On second thought, I don’t want to know.
Wawa even has an entire media campaign about the iconic hoagie called “Hoagiefest.” It celebrates the humble hometown sandwich that has provided sustenance for countless generations. It is only right that the Philadelphia hoagie be honored with such an event.
Go to Sheetz, and they don’t even call it a hoagie. Out there they attach a negative prefix (i.e., “sub”) to their hoagies. Inferring ever so slightly that it might not be of desirable quality or taste? Just a terrible injustice toward a fantastic sandwich. Hoagies should never be diminished by calling them a “sub,” just like a Philly cheesesteak should never be called a “steak sandwich.”
It's not a close call. Wawa is the undisputed champion.
Will this end the great debate? Probably not.
But there is a clear winner here, and it’s the people of Pennsylvania. We in the Keystone State all win by having two outstanding convenience stores from which to choose. During these difficult days, that’s something we can all appreciate.
Brendan F. Boyle is a member of Congress from Pennsylvania.
By John Fetterman
Political strategist James Carville is noted as saying Pennsylvania is Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between.
Let’s dissect the sour implications of that claim another day and just get straight to the truth: Pennsylvania is Sheetz and Wawa with more Sheetz in between.
My friend U.S. Rep. Brendan F. Boyle and I should really sit down together and talk this through with some mac ‘n’ cheeze bites and a generous side of Boom-Boom Sauce, FTW.
We could meet in the neutral territory of the Lehigh Valley, where they might be the luckiest Pennsylvanians of all, as they enjoy an embarrassment of riches for their petrol refueling accommodations. They have both Sheetz and Wawa.
There’s a highway exit where an enchanted place exists, where a Sheetz and a Wawa coexist right across the street from each other. You’d better believe I took a picture of that.
Here are some reasons I love Sheetz:
Beautiful Altoona is the birthplace of Sheetz, and the Sheetzi (my custom pluralization of Sheetz) there are featured in majestic, sprawling campuses with beverage areas larger than any apartment I had in my 20s.
They’ve got drive-thrus, car washes, vacuums, and massage chairs. Massage chairs, my friend, and the floors are so clean you’d eat scrambled eggs off of them.
Whether I’m Jeeping it home from Harrisburg, or on the road asking yinz and youse about legalizing cannabis, the warm red glow of a Sheetz awning beckons with red beet eggs, a hunk of cheese, and the rich cavalcade of the entire family of Duke’s smoked shorty sausages.
Normally, I’d love to really commit to that whole east vs. west thing to prove just how much I love Pittsburgh and Sheetz, and to demonstrate how much better they are at everything they do (including winning Super Bowl rings). I would usually be here for all of that. But these are not normal times.
It would be a luxury to focus on inconsequential divisions, like convenience store preferences, when Pennsylvanians are living through such trying times, including a deadly pandemic, economic threats to vulnerable families, and the most enduring demonstrations in 50 years.
The reality is that this is a time for unity, and we are most divided now by ideology, not geography.
I love both sides of Pennsylvania and everything in between (and the in-between, to be clear, is Sheetz territory). It is a given that Sheetz is far superior, so let us just embrace these universal truths:
Masks are good science.
We need to be kind to each other.
We’ll get through this together.
Those are nonnegotiable, but we can debate whether mac ‘n’ cheeze bites would make a fine Official Road Food of Pennsylvania. (I bet we have the votes for that.)
In the interest of true Pennsylvania unity, and as a concession to my dear friend Rep. Boyle, let us agree that Wawa is also a tremendous option — if you are 50 miles or more away from a Sheetz.
John Fetterman is the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania.