For G. Wong, it was not a typical lunch break.
About 3 p.m. Thursday, Wong strolled the aisles of Washington’s new Wawa, meandering across the glistening, freshly laid floor. He walked past a coffee bar and cafe seating closely guarded by a Canada goose, Wawa’s logo, soaring over a D.C. flag. He swiped a giant touch screen, perusing facts about one of the mid-Atlantic’s most beloved grocery store chains. He walked past smaller, but no less sparkling, touch screens customers use to order sandwiches and other lunch items.
Sure, the store was out of soft pretzels, arguably Wawa’s signature item, but that didn’t really matter. In fact, Wong said, he’d already had lunch. Maybe he would buy a coffee. He was mainly here to marvel.
This was Wawa: 9,200 square feet of convenience where 60 employees hustled to get all comers their favored snacks.
“I get everything in one place,” Wong said. “It is a lunch fantasy.”
The first Wawa opened in 1964 in Folsom, Pa. About a half-century, more than 780 stores and 30,000 employees later, here it is at 1111 19th St. NW, the former home of no less a D.C. institution than the Washington Passport Agency.
People were psyched.
“If you grew up with Wawa, you appreciate it deeply,” said Jessica Feldman, a Pennsylvania native since exiled to the District. “People compare it to 7-Eleven — they don’t get the hype.”
Feldman also noted the store’s special touches. Subway tiles. Exposed ventilation ducts. Wood finishes.
“This is obviously catering to a bit more upscale crowd,” she said. “It’s not like other Wawas.”
One need not be architecturally minded or have been born in the Keystone State to appreciate Wawa’s wares, some of which can’t be found in a typical D.C. bodega. Wawa Egg Nog. Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews. Many, many, many kinds of chips.
“We are thrilled to finally spread our wings into the Washington, D.C., market and begin fulfilling the lives of more customers and communities than ever before with this all-new store design,” Chris Gheysens, Wawa’s president and chief executive, said in a statement.
Brandon Moore-Rhodes of Washington, who works at the American Bar Association, said he’d built a relationship with the chain over 10 years, having frequented a Wawa in Capitol Heights, Md. He spoke highly of the store’s Italian sub.
“It looks really nice,” Moore-Rhodes said. “I’m a big fan of Wawa. . . . I like the store. It’s two blocks from work. They have great sandwiches.”
Will Saltzburg, another Pennsylvania native and a student at American University, said Wawa’s wares were “culturally New Jersey and Pennsylvania.” But here, in the heart of the nation’s capital, blocks from the White House, Wawa is evolving, changing. It is morphing into a new kind of convenience store — one offering a snacking experience more powerful than ever before.
“Everyone here moves at a faster pace,” Saltzburg said.