Wawa’s Fresh-Bread Gambit

New CEO outlines goals for growing convenience store chain

WAWA, Pa. -- Less than a month into his new role as CEO of Wawa convenience stores, Chris Gheysens has picked up the mantle of his predecessor and is promising a foodservice culture that is a step removed from the typical view of c-stores.

Gheysens, speaking to the Philadelphia Irish American Business Chamber & Network this past week, says he wants the chain to be seen as fast casual, in a league with chains such as Five Guys, Chipotle or Panera rather than fast food, according to a report in the Philadelphia Enquirer.

A step in that direction is a political-campaign like promise that every Wawa convenience store will soon have its own bread oven. "Fresh baked rolls,” he said. “By the end of the year, you will have an oven in every Wawa." That means more bread baked on site and more welcome smells to greet customers as they walk in the door.

There will also be employees in "mock chef coats." "Less clutter. Brighter colors. More consistent," Gheysens said, "with what you find in a Panera or a Starbucks."

Gheysens’ strategy follows closely in the footsteps of previous CEO Howard Stoeckel who claimed the phrase “fast casual to go” to describe the direction Wawa is headed.

Wawa, based in Wawa, Pa., is a chain of more than 600 convenience retail stores (300 offering gasoline) located in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia and Florida.