The line wrapped around the block an hour before opening. Another trendy no-reservations restaurant? Another pop-up with a pop-culture theme and $14 cocktails?
Nope. This time it was Wawa, the convenience store.
All day, Wawa fans have been swarming the company’s first DC location for free coffee and much-hyped subs, ahem, hoagies. Never mind that this is a millennial-geared, upscaled version of the nostalgia-rich suburban standby. At one point, an employee says, they had a back-up of 200 hoagie orders.
When I stop by around 1:30 PM, most people say they’ve been waiting for their food for around an hour. Everyone’s trying their best to protect their personal space, gazes fixed on the hoagie counter, where a small crowd has been inching forward, slowly, slowly.
A quick sampling around the room confirms it’s a lot of Pennsylvania and New Jersey transplants—or people who have been dragged to Wawa by them. Sloane Salzburg, a lobbyist originally from Florida, describes herself as a “Wawa virgin.” She’s accompanied by two colleagues, Jennifer Bernstein and Christine Pollack, who grew up around Wawa. The trio has been waiting for a little over half an hour, but don’t seem to mind. Because, you know, hoagies.
“It’s gorgeous, but it doesn’t really matter,” says Bernstein. “I would go to a dumpy Wawa.”
Mike Denison, a journalist for Science News, grew up in the suburbs of Philly and keeps pausing mid sentence to hear the order numbers being called, hopeful the next will be his. Denison went so far as to wear a Wawa T-shirt under his gray button down shirt in anticipation of the grand opening. (I advise against layers. The sheer amount of people in the store will have you sweating in no time).
Those who are new to Wawa seem to be having a harder time understanding its cult-like following. George Washington University student Isabelle Atier-Ibrahim joined her roommate, Seraina Schlottland, who grew up with a Wawa 5 minutes from her house in either direction. She calls it akin to home. Atier-Ibrahim, meanwhile, had never stepped foot into a Wawa before today.
“It’s good,” she says, as she turns over the empty wrapper in her hand. “I kind of understand the fascination, but I’m still confused.”