Wawa comes to Florida
The Mayors of Orange County and Orlando joined Florida Governor Rick Scott to cut the ribbon on a new convenience store near Sea World in Orlando Wednesday.
Hundreds of people trekked to the store for the opening, many of them originally from the Mid Atlantic where Wawa has a loyal following.
Andrew Murray used to work at a Wawa in New Jersey before moving to Florida ten years ago.
“I’ve been telling my friends about it and they’re like, why are you getting so excited about a convenience store, even my wife, has been telling me, why are you so excited about a convenience store," says Murray.
"It’s not just a store it’s like a way of life for us.”
Jason Wyman, from Pennsylvania, swears by the hoagies- fresh made sandwiches.
“I’ve been here for 6 years and miss my Wawa. Today’s the day.”
Wawa president Chris Gheysens is counting on customers like these to help grow business in Florida.
“We wanted to find a market where we could make home and build several hundred stores," says Gheysens.
He says Florida was a good choice "from a competition perspective, from a real estate availability and also from a demographic- people know who Wawa is because there’s so many transplants."
"So the risk, yes, is that we’ll have to get our supply chain logistics down right, but there’s a lot of other positives that outweigh that.”
Gheysens says the local and state regulations mean its quicker to expand in Florida than it would be in the mid Atlantic.
Four more of the gas and food stores will open in Orange County over the next few weeks.
Wawa says it wants to open 100 or more stores in Florida over the next five years, each employing about 35 staff.
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs says Wawa’s expansion into Central Florida is a sign of the region’s ability to attract investment and new jobs.
“Obviously our mix of jobs we are recruiting are much bigger than convenience stores, but convenience stores are part of the service economy that’s supporting us," said Jacobs.
"But if you look at what we’re growing here in Orange County, the medical city, modeling, simulation and training, we’ve got the number one cluster in that area in the entire country, so this is a part of the equation.”
Mayor Jacobs says she was surprised by the turnout.
“My goodness. I’ve never seen anything like this. I’m just shocked. I go to so many grand openings.”
Also surprised by the enthusiastic welcome for Wawa is local chef Tony Adams, who runs the Big Wheel food truck.
“We wish there was as much fanfare and celebration of the great local restaurants and the independent business that we’re building, especially when we’re trying to celebrate the great products of Central Florida," he says.
Adams says he has nothing against Wawa, but he thinks politicians should do more to support businesses which are trying to change Orlando’s reputation as a chain restaurant destination.