Wawa, a family-owned chain of convenience stores known for its fanatical following, plans to open dozens of stores in Palm Beach and Broward counties over the next five years, company officials announced Wednesday.
But die-hard Wawa fans will have to wait to find out exactly where they will be able to get their hot coffee and hoagie fix.
At a gathering Wednesday, Wawa leaders said they are looking for sites across the county that are suitable for gas and convenience store sales.
Peter Gilligan, Wawa’s senior vice president of real estate, said the company plans to secure at least 15 sites in Palm Beach and Broward this year. Wawa expects to break ground on three to five stores in 2016.
Gilligan confirmed that Wawa is considering three sites in West Palm Beach as part of its expansion into Palm Beach County.
The popular chain is looking at sites at the intersections of 45th Street and Interstate 95, Belvedere Road and Australian Avenue, and Okeechobee Boulevard and Skees Road.
But Gilligan cautioned that it is still “early on” in the planning.
The company, which is headquartered in Wawa, Pa., has big plans in Florida. Wawa opened its first Florida location outside of SeaWorld in Orlando in 2012. The company now has 59 Florida locations in the Orlando and Tampa regions.
Wawa expects to open 25 new stores this year. By 2019, the company hopes to have 180 Florida locations.
Chris Gheysens, Wawa’s president and CEO, touched on the company’s cult-like following at Wednesday’s event, saying that Wawa’s employees, and not its products, set it apart from other stores.
“We are differentiated not because of these great products, we are differentiated by our people,” Gheysens told the crowd made up largely of elected officials and local land planners. “That is what we want to bring to Palm Beach County. Passionate employees.”
Gheysens said the company wants to create a “Wawa South,” adding that its Florida stores have been redesigned to put fresh food at the forefront.
Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven Abrams, who grew up in Philadelphia, near the company’s headquarters, couldn’t hold back his excitement Wednesday about Wawa’s expansion plan.
“We may have to pass a resolution declaring that the proper word is ‘hoagie,’ not ‘sub or grinder,’” Abrams joked.
Abrams said he has been watching the company since it opened its first store in central Florida, and hoping that officials would continue to push south.
“I grew up with Wawa,” Abrams said. “I went to Wawa every day after school for years.”
Palm Beach County Mayor Shelley Vana, pointed to the jobs that Wawa will bring. Each store is expected to employ 4 to 6 managers and as many as 50 associates, Wawa officials said.
Vana praised the company for offering employees competitive salaries and an employee stock option program. Wawa’s employees make up about 43 percent of its shareholders.
“We know how important economic development is for Palm Beach County,” Vana said. “The philosophy that this company brings is welcome, indeed.”