When Wawa announced earlier this week that it had begun selling pizza, it seemed—for however brief a moment—that the pizza gods had smiled down on this city, giving us yet another treat made convenient.
"Finally," we Philadelphians thought, "a place to grab a pie at literally any time of day. And it's Wawa, so surely the pizza is decent."
Indeed, Wawa seemed equally confident, rolling out their newfound pizza program at all of the chain's stores under a "Deep Dish Focaccia Pizza" moniker. What's more, it's available in five styles—plain, pepperoni, buffalo chicken, veggie and bacon-jalapeño—so you can change up your order depending on your preference—and all for about $6 a pop.
Unfortunately, though, what we're dealing with here is pizza in name only.
Here at the Philly.com office, we got our hands on three styles for a little taste test, wondering if our Wawa blinders would overpower the awfulness that typically is convenience store pizza. They did not.
It starts, of course, with the looks. To put it mildly, our Wawa pies looked like an accident—sauce soaking into the bread, toppings asunder, the cheese leaking off the over-puffed focaccia base. If, indeed, we eat with our eyes first, Wawa's pizzas nearly removed our appetites.
Still, though, we pressed on, tasting each pie with an increasing uneasiness. Perhaps because, unlike traditional pizza, Wawa uses provolone and cream cheese (for the buffalo chicken) in their place, giving you what can only rightly be called an approximation of the pizza experience. At some point, it felt wrong—like we were cheating on pizza, giving our valuable cheese-sauce-dough dollars to a sad imitator. It was as if we had ordered hoagies, but they didn't split the roll and instead built the sandwich directly on top.
Of the three, the buffalo chicken was the most passable, with the cheese and pepperoni styles coming off as aggressively bad by comparison—due, no doubt, to the scant sauce and overly cheesy proportions of the pies. Perhaps the remaining styles—veggie and bacon-jalepeño—are better, but something tells me we won't be digging in to find out.
Perhaps Wawa should have known their pizzas would turn out this way, given that the chain attempted to introduce the item once before back in the mid-90s—a time when Wawa was also briefly opening up Taco Bell locations inside their stores. It didn't stick around long, with focus groups calling the idea crazy, because, as Dan McQuade at Phillymag points out, "if we want pizza, we'll go somewhere that specializes in pizza."
Former Wawa CEO Howard Stoeckel acknowledges that aspect in his book, The Wawa Way, saying that "ethnic foods—Mexican and Italian—caused a disconnect in terms of the consumer experience and Wawa."
At some point, that logic appears to have gone out the window, but it doesn't make the observation any less true. Yes, pizza is a simple dish, but simple dishes are often the hardest to duplicate accurately or successfully. To have the store that sells you cigarettes and beef jerky also slinging pies just seems weird—and, unfortunately, that notion seems to be backed up in the final product.
Think of it like this: Doesn't it make you angry when other areas attempt to recreate their own "Philly" cheesesteaks? They are abominations, missing the core aspects of the sandwich that actually made it an American and Philadelphian classic. This is the same thing, only instead of steaks, Wawa's pizzas are missing that essential "pizzaness" that will keep you coming back slice after slice. Instead, they're more likely to repel you.
But, hey, we'd still eat them after a long night of drinking. Bad decisions come easier that way.