Wawa is aging well.
At 52, it has morphed from a convenience store to a full-service operation that is part store/take-out restaurant/coffee house, part bakery and gas station - and become a staple of the rush-hour landscape with its signature Wawa coffee.
The chain with 725 stores and $9 billion in sales in 2015 announced that it is hiring 5,000 people company-wide by June 1. It is also opening a new Center City location with seating at 1900 Market St. by the end of the year.
"Center City has responded," said Wawa president and CEO Chris Gheysens. "As a result, we are opening another location in the city."
Businessman Jerry Sweeney, CEO of Brandywine Realty Trust, the new store's landlord, said the new location "is a great validation for us of the maturity of the Market Street west corridor. What historically has been just office buildings, has become a fully integrated, mixed-use neighborhood."
There are 38 Wawas within the city limits.
Wawa's evolution from a general convenience store to a broader restaurant is marked by this statistic: Food and beverage now account for more than 50 percent of Wawa's revenue, said Gheysens.
This figure does not include the candy bars at the cash register or peanut butter and bread loaves on its shelves, which are categorized as "grocery." Food items are the "meals" prepared in the back kitchen that customers can customize using electronic touch screens.
"We've grown from a traditional convenience store to more of a hybrid convenience-restaurant to go," Gheysens said. "It's hard to even categorize us.
"We still sell a tremendous amount of traditional convenience products, such as cigarettes, cold beverages and snacks," he said. "But a differential for our brand has been fresh food. In the last decade, we've been dedicated to quality and assortment, like you would find in a fast casual, or even a sit-down restaurant."
Gheysens said food's role at Wawa will keep expanding. For the first time the company is hiring both a food and beverage manager and a food and beverage supervisor for each store this year.
Wawa, a Native American word for Canada geese, has been the chain's mascot since it was launched in 1964. About 435 of the chain's 725 stores are concentrated in the Philadelphia region, which includes the Philadelphia suburbs, the city, South Jersey, and Delaware. Most are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Employees own 44 percent of the company's equity as an ESOP, or employee stock ownership plan. It now employs 26,000 company-wide, and is in the midst of a major spring campaign to hire the 5,000 additional workers, many in food. Company spokeswoman Lori Bruce said some of those hires will be to fill positions as a result of attrition.
She said the 1900 Market St. location is looking to hire 60 to 70 associates for its end-of-the-year opening. The store will have two entrances and 25 bar seats, and be among the largest in the chain at 7,000 square feet - well above the typical 4,500 to 5,000 square feet - with seven registers.
Remodeling also began earlier this year at many "legacy stores" - most of which have no gas stations - at $1 million per store for a complete redesign.
"It's all about customization," said Michael Sherlock, vice president of fresh food and beverage for Wawa. "That's been a big attraction. It gives the customer empowerment."
He said Wawa was in the top 10 on three items in the Philly market: its brewed coffee (No. 1), hoagies (No. 1), and breakfast sandwiches (either No. 1 or No. 2). The chain is No. 6 nationally on brewed coffee sales, Sherlock said.
Among the headwinds, he said, was making the best use of limited space while continuing to deliver new product and meeting customers' changing patterns, such as mobile apps for orders.
Dina Sheehan, 45, a home health worker from South Philly, got in line Thursday to pay for a chicken Caesar wrap and a free, 24-ounce regular Wawa coffee as part of Wawa Day festivities in which all stores gave free coffee all day.
"I love Wawa," Sheehan said. She said she was a regular at the store at Eighth and Walnut Streets for five years, before the one at Broad and Walnut opened in September. "They have great sandwiches. And everything in their bakery is really good."