Wawa - Pizza [Food item] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review


Pizza [Food item] (2023)

Wawa inc.

Editor’s Note: Wawa is a Philadelphia based convenience store that sells coffee, freshly made sandwiches, salads, and similar type items. Analogues include Sheetz, Rutters, and Buckees. If that doesn’t strike a chord, imagine 7-11, except bigger, cleaner, and the clerk doesn’t scowl at you with the burning hatred of a thousand suns when you try to buy something.

Not even ten years ago, everyone I knew loved Wawa. The hoagies were decent (and a great value), the coffee was reasonable and tasty, and they had gas. It was a source of local Philly pride. The rest of the country might be punished with 7-11s, but WE had Wawa- tasty food, good prices, and since they served hoagies, a link to local culture.

Well, times have changed. Wawa has expanded well into Jersey, down into Maryland, and even over to New York and as far down as Florida. Meanwhile, this expansion has cost the company some goodwill back home. A lot of people are now seeing Wawa as some sort of Wal-Mart style behemoth that smashes Mom-n-Pop places, with the particular charge that Wawa is tearing down local hoagie shops, which really should be a Federal crime. Further, a lot of people say “Wawa hoagies such now.” Well, that’s not true- the Wawa hoagie is about as good as it ever was, with maybe a slight decline in quality. But, whereas most Hoagie places have raised the cost of a 12-incher to $12 or even $14, the Wawa hoagie has hovered at just around $7. No, it’s not BETTER than a hoagie shop style hoagie, and it’s not even really a replacement, but if you are on the run and you want a hoagie that is at least pretty good for a good price, it’s a great deal. Also, you can take a whiz while your order is being prepared.

So, yes, overall, I am a Wawa defender. Over the years, Wawa has treated me well. When I had a terrible, terrible, terrible job for about five months in 2012, driving all over the state, Wawa was there to great me, nourish me, and allow me a clean and quiet place to piss in the midst of my terrible job. And before and after those dark five months, Wawa has treated me to great food, polite service, and gas that I know isn’t diluted or old.

But, like many people, I was taken aback when Wawa announced it was getting into the pizza game. For decades, Wawa made its foundation in the sandwich and sandwich related arts- Hoagies, club triple deckers, and maybe salads. But PIZZA? In PHILLY???!!

The fact of the matter is, Philly is the best place for pizza in the world. I’ll happily brawl with New Yorkers over this- NY pizza is pretty good, but it’s always over cooked- too crispy, a little burnt, and not enough flavor. I want my pizza to have a little flop, a little chewiness- Philly dominates in this aspect. (I’ll give Jersey shore pizza a pass because it really is just a descendent of Philly pies).

So, it did seem odd and brash for Wawa to enter into the most competitive pizza field in the world. You can’t throw a stone in the Philly area without hitting a great pizza place, and, much like all the fantastic taquerias on the west coast, each pizzeria does things distinctly, if ever so slightly, in its own way.

But, I will say, this sudden move was not totally unexpected. Aboutt wo years ago, Wawa entered into the burger game- burgers that can only be ordered AFTER 4pm. My guess was that some marketing nerd realized that most Wawa food purchases were based around lunchtime so they should try to break into the evening market. Well, the Wawa burger came arrived with little distinction and no one really cared. It’s still around but no one mentions it much because it’s so darn mediocre.

Wawa, apparently taking this not-a-complete-failure as a stepping stone, decided to shoot higher and enter into the holy world of pizza. They clearly think this is a great idea because you can’t go 45 seconds without seeing a Wawa pizza ad- tv, radio, mail, even some dude handing out flyers on the street.

I actually was annoyed that Wawa was trying to enter into a field that was already crowded and perfect and tried to avoid buying their new product. Well, eventually, with their incessant marketing they beat me down and one night at 2am, after a Dog Party show, I broke down an ordered a half-plain/half peppers and onions.

At Wawa, you have to pay before you pick up your freshly made item. The registered dinged me at about $22- already off to a bad start. Wawa is supposed to be CHEAPER than the local, small places, not MORE expensive. And at 2am, I waited… and waited… and waited… and waited…

Now, if you order a hoagie or a sandwich, it’s pretty much going to be ready for you as soon as you make your way back from the cash register to the deli section. Not with Wawa pizza. It took them a full 37 minutes to make my pie, about 10-15 minutes LONGER than a mom-n-pop joint.

To their credit, the staff apologized for the long wait. But, it wasn’t like they were screwing around. Wawa equipment simply isn’t built to compete with the century-plus technology of Philly pizza joints. And, the staff isn’t only dedicated to pizza, so they have neither the training nor the experience to handle such a delicate and complex art. I took the pie to my car and opened it up.

It did look pretty appetizing, but it was missing that crust-and-cardboard pizza-y smell. Plus, the peppers and onions weren’t cut in that thin pizza style, but rather, in a blocky sandwich chop. That is, the veggies didn’t integrate with the pizza, they were just kind of tossed on top.

I pulled out a slice. Immediately, the cheese and vegetables slid off like it was a waterslide. A good pizza will hold its elements together, but as a sort of harbinger, the Wawa pizza definitely seemed to be less than the some of its parts. I can drop a board on top of four wheels, but it’s not going to be a good skateboard.

I was able to finagle my second slice free of the pie while keeping the cheese and sauce and vegetables mostly located in the correct areas. Upon my first bite, I was struck with how WET the pizza was. As I said above, I hate crispy-cracker-crusts, but this crust was dissolving and falling apart as I bit in. My guess is this is due to the fact that Wawa uses some funky oven they repurposed and not a true blue pizza oven. It makes a big difference.

I’m assuming the cheese was mozzarella, as you’d expect, but I was bored by just how flavorless and oily it was. There was none of that slight tinge mozzarella has, nor the fluffiness, either. In fact, the cheese was thick and oily and dropped into my stomach like a drenched napkin. It almost felt like taking a big bite out of a loaf of American cheese. Ewww.

There was sauce there, too, but I could barely detect it. When I did get a flash of tomato, it was more reminiscent of pasta sauce than pizza sauce- the two are related, but so are hair curlers and electric chairs.

The biggest flaw and biggest disappointment of the Wawa pizza was its total lack of flavor. It basically looked like a pizza, but that was about. Otherwise, it sort of fell prey to Taco Bell reasoning- they just used the same ingredients they had on hand to make a new shape. Except with Taco bell, this strategy has been refined over the decades so that no matter how you combine fake-cheese-paste with “ground beef” with lettuce and sour cream, it’s going to taste awesome and be crunchy. By contrast, the pizza is so far outside of the sandwich landscape that it’s a total failure. Like the leaning tower of Pisa, it’s interesting to look at, but serves no real purpose due to terrible poor planning.

Now, I say this not to beat up on Wawa but to provide constructive feedback. Stick to what you do. The reason people like and even love you, Wawa, is NOT because you try to do everything, but because you are very, very good at the FEW things that you do actually do. Look at Sheetz. They have a million items on the menu and they all taste like shit and are greasy- At Sheetz, in an astounding bit of reality0beinding, even the salad is greasy. Or look at 7-11. They have a bunch of food and it’s all total dog shit. Every five years or so I find myself stranded and in a moment of weakness, get something to eat from 7-11. It’s ALWAYS totally awful and I ALWAYS remember how much I hate 7-11 and vow to never go back.

Wawa, your core strengths are very powerful- great customer service, good coffee, great hoagies and sandwiches. THIS is your identity. By stretching beyond this, and trying to be all things to all people, you are not only selling crappy food that tarnishes your hard earned good will, but you are actually negatively impacting the things you do well.

Also, I must add, your current business strategy is stupid. How much NEW business does the pizza and burger actually generate? I’d wager that those two products just cannibalize from hoagie/sandwich/quesadilla sales 85-90% of the time. AND, those people that would have otherwise bought and been pleased with a tasty hoagie, etc, instead by mediocre (at best) imitations of things that are done sooooo much better just down the block and remember how Wawa screwed them over.

It's almost the Christmas season so I do feel a reference to Dickens is appropriate here. Wawa, you are Ebenezer Scrooge. This missive is Jacob Marley. There is still time to undo the damage you have wrought. There is still time to correct this serous misstep that damages not only your own value, but the value of far better pizza places in the neighborhood. But after the burger debacle, and now this, you’re running out of time. Repent and get back to doing good works, before it’s too late…

*Cue ghostly Italian Classic pointing to a broken down, nearly vacant, 7-11*