First Wawa in North Carolina opens in Kill Devil Hills

Published 1:34 pm Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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Yet another significant first took place in Kill Devil Hills last week – the opening of the very first Wawa in North Carolina on Thursday, May 16.

This is just the first of 90 stores planned for North Carolina, said area manager Jay Ratcliffe. The company is opening a Wawa in Elizabeth City next, followed by six to eight stores per year until the goal of 90 is reached.

The gas station and store, located at 1900 N. Croatan Hwy, will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But for fans of Wawa, this is about much more than just convenience.

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“It’s always been a family tradition whenever we travel to stop at Wawa. It’s our first stop, hands down,” said Missy Eppard, who proclaimed herself the most excited person about the opening of store. “I have driven up to Virginia just to get Wawa hoagies – really – not even joking. I’m just so excited to have the convenience here at my hometown and be able to come whenever I want and get whatever I want here at our new Wawa.”

Wawa has created a unique culture of customers who are absolutely devoted to the company. And it’s not just because they have 12 pots of brewed coffee, a super simple snack bar ordering system, or limitless beverage options. Social media is full of stories of people who have celebrated birthdays, anniversaries and even weddings at Wawa.

The difference, Ratcliffe said, is because the company is 60% privately owned by family members and founders, and 39% associate owned.

That is what changes. When you’re family owned and associate owned you have a vested interest. You have a different feeling on wanting to create a Wawa experience and that is what we’re trying to do today – to really truly make it feel like home,” Ratcliffe said.

At Wawa, they strive to remember customers’ names and their favorite orders. “We try to make it an intimate experience very time you walk in,” he said.

For the last five months before the opening of the store, Wawa’s associates have been living in the community to prepare for not only the opening, but to build relationships with community members.

“We don’t just open the doors. Long before the shovel even hits the ground, we become part of the community,” Ratcliffe said.

Drew Pearson, Dare County’s emergency management director, attended the grand opening event out of appreciation to Wawa’s commitment to preparedness and readiness. During times of power outages or storms, when people need gas in their cars or a sandwich to keep going, Wawa plans to be a resource.

“That commitment to community runs deep in Wawa,” Pearson said.

The store planned two grand opening events last week. The store was packed Wednesday afternoon for the “Taste of Wawa” VIP preview day with over a hundred personally selected Wawa customers, local law enforcement, local officials, regional managers and, of course, the Wally Goose mascot.

John Tayloe from the office of U.S. Senator Ted Budd stopped in to say a few words at the VIP Preview Day. “This is truly the best region,” he said. “You have the best beaches and you have the first Wawa.”

Employees served complimentary samples of everything from hoagies and pizza to smoothies and ice cream. “Eye of the Tiger” was blasting over the speakers as general manager Conni Sanchez and her team made the very first made-to-order hoagie at the Kill Devil Hills store. The crowd was cheering at every topping and condiment (“How about tomatoes?” Yeah! “Who’s a pickle lover?” Yeah!), finishing up with a jubilant “We did it!”

Thursday’s grand opening event featured free t-shirts for the first 250 customers, speeches from company officials and local officials, and a Hoagie for Heroes Hoagie Building Competition. A four-way hoagie build-off between representatives from the KDH Fire Department, Dare County EMS, Special Olympics of North Carolina, and the Coast Guard Foundation faced off for a three-minute competition, with Wawa awarding $1000 for each team’s charity of choice.

Wawa’s core purpose is “Fulfilling Lives, Every Day.” The company states: “It captures Wawa’s special place in the world and recognizes Wawa’s higher calling beyond convenience and satisfaction. It inspires Wawa associates to create meaningful personal connections and make a real difference in the lives of customers, communities, and each other, every day.”