Wawa Goes Retro

New Va. drive-in facility harkens back to days of 1950s-style "car hops"

Published in CSP Daily News

By  Steve Dwyer, CSP Reporter

YORKTOWN, Va. -- Continuing its quest to "reinvent convenience," Wawa Inc. will take the wraps off a fledgling "old-fashioned" drive-in foodservice station today at its Yorktown, Va. c-store, with plans to unveil a second drive-in service in June. Customers opting to use the drive-in can pull into one of 20 parking spots—located under a canopy—and order food and beverages by activating an intercom system. Menus are equipped at each ordering station, and dedicated Wawa "car hops" will deliver orders to waiting customers.

Available daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., customers have [image-nocss] an option to remain parked to consume meals or drive away. Wawa's second drive-in is scheduled to debut in Virginia Beach in June and will include a patio area and picnic tables for customers who wish to leave their cars and dine outside.

The drive-in menu items will make available all of Wawa's flagship offerings, such as Sizzli's, breakfast ciabattas, hot and cold hoagies, built-to-order salads, soups, sides, chicken strips and fruit cups. Wawa, Pa.-based Wawa operates 560 stores in five East Coast states (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia)."We want to take convenience to the next level," Howard Stoeckel, Wawa's president and CEO, told CSP Daily News. "Many of our customers already eat in their cars. Maybe they have kids in the back seat, they're text messaging or checking their Blackberry. It's multitasking at its best."Stoeckel said that, in an evocative way, the service marks the return of 1950s-style customer service, as drive-ins were popular in that era. He also said the service "enables Wawa to connect customers to our brand in another fashion." He said the cost to implement the Yorktown drive-in was somewhere in the neighborhood of $500,000.An outgrowth of Wawa's "Go Mobile" corporate initiative—where customers can order food and beverage from six Wawa stores via either web or text message—the Yorktown drive-in service will be embossed with Wawa's new store design prototype featuring 5,700 sq. ft. of retail space and additional gasoline facility space. Through the new construction, Wawa added a drive-in canopy and made renovations to the foodservice area to enable service to the drive-in customers.Stoeckel said the Yorktown site was an appropriate test-pilot store because it has a successful foodservice business, and also because the chain wanted to demonstrate to Virginia customers that Wawa is first and foremost "a food retailer. This gives us a chance to showcase our brand identify with foodservice. Some consumers in Virginia markets don't understand our heritage as being in dairy, coffee and hoagies. This balances out the food-and-fuel image."

When customers drive into the staging area, they can view a Wawa food menu, activate the intercom, order food, and an associate will bring it to them. The chain hired 20 part-time, dedicated foodservice employees (there are 42 employees in all who work at the Yorktown store) to support the service. "We will have at least three on duty at all time," Stoeckel said.

Once the second program debuts in Virginia Beach, Wawa plans to evaluate the program—perhaps for up to six months—before deciding whether to expand it to other locations. "We'll see how things play out. This program is a classic example of R&D and concept development at work," said Stoeckel.