Ever had a half-joking office debate go way too far? We have. That’s how RVA Mag’s Marilyn Drew Necci and Ash Griffith ended up engaging in a taste test to determine, once and for all, which gas station chain has the most delicious food.
Wawa and Sheetz. These two upscale gas station chains, both of which originated in Pennsylvania (Wawa is from Folsom, Sheetz is from Altoona), have gone from nowhere to domination of Richmond’s convenience store landscape in less than two decades. With 24-hour availability of not just gas but coffee, snacks, and delicious made-to-order foods ordered from a touch screen, Sheetz and Wawa give you the best pit-stop experience your money can buy.
Of course, nobody loves them equally. Most people are intensely polarized — they either can’t live without Sheetz or they’ve gotta have their Wawa. It’s such an intense rivalry that someone is even making a documentary about it. And while the sides seem more equal in their mutual home state of Pennsylvania, most people in Richmond who have a preference in this debate love Wawa. They’re the perennially dominant Yankees to Sheetz’s scrappy underdog Mets.
And I have to come clean, and say: I don’t get it. Sheetz’s food is better. What’s more, their portions are more generous, and tend to cost less. Sheetz also plays a really great mix of rockin’ tunes over their sound system, mixing garage rock, modern blues, glam-rock classics, legendary punk tunes, and solid album cuts from current hitmakers. Don’t believe me? See for yourself at their Muzak playlist page. As I type this, they’re playing “Love Removal Machine” by The Cult, and their last 10 songs include tracks by Devo, Spoon, TV On The Radio, Cedric Burnside, and J Mascis.
Now, Ash totally disagrees with me on this. We’ve gone back and forth so many times around the office about whether it’s Sheetz or Wawa that should truly take the crown that, of course, it eventually got out of hand. Ash proposed we engage in a taste test, pitting Wawa foods against their Sheetz counterparts. I quickly accepted, believing my beloved Sheetz could win such a contest in a walk. Was I right? First, here’s Ash to speak her piece on why it’s Wawa that she loves most. Then we’ll get to the taste tests. –Marilyn Drew Necci
Wawa is my ride or die. From the sleek overall aesthetic to the consistently crafted quality of the coffee to the best subs that you can get at 3 AM out by the airport. East Coasters as a whole feel some kind of way about the iconic convenience store, even going so far as getting the logo tattooed on them.
While my love may not go quite that deep, it does go deep enough that I’ll turn up my nose at the notion that its direct competitor, Sheetz, would ever come close to it. While the marketing for Sheetz is different, it does as a whole offer exactly the same approach, and appeals to the same demographic. So when the time came to throw down with similar items to compare, I was ready to brave the gauntlet for my beloved chain named after a Canadian waterfowl. –Ash Griffith
Coffee: Wawa Pumpkin Spice Brewed Coffee vs. Sheetz Pumpkin Spice Cold Brew
As the resident caffeine addict on staff, I happily approached the coffee as my first battle. Wawa is if nothing else known to have the best coffee you can get from a gas station, its only true competitor in that regard being 7-Eleven (join us next time for that throwdown).
This was a case where the winner was quick, simple, and clean. Wawa won hands down. Wawa’s Pumpkin Spice is a warm, bold flavor. The cinnamon and nutmeg are subtle but apparent, and the sweetness ratio is just enough to be there. Perfection.
Sheetz’s Pumpkin Spice was delicious, undeniably, but the sweetness was absolutely out of control. The struggle to finish it was more of a fight for survival and arose from the stubbornness best described with the phrase, “Well, I mean… I bought it.” While the flavor notes were about the same, the sweetness was overpowering and felt like more of Christmas overload than a comforting fall morning. Wawa easily wins this round. –Ash Griffith
Veggie Sub: Wawa Veggie Junior Hoagie vs. Sheetz 3-Cheese Half Sub
I first formed my opinion that Sheetz was better than Wawa based on the difference between the two chains’ respective veggie subs. When I went to Wawa back in the early 00s, I’d get the biggest size, which was 10 inches, with cheddar and provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato, oil, vinegar, and banana peppers, because those were the only toppings they offered that I enjoyed.
But I like a lot of vegetables on my veggie subs, so when I went to Sheetz, I’d get a half sub, which was six inches (I only ever got a footlong once — it was too damn much food for one meal. Which is impressive). On it I’d get cheddar, provolone, and pepper jack cheeses (because they allowed you to pick three kinds of cheese, where Wawa only offered two), with lettuce, tomato, oil, vinegar, banana peppers, jalapeno peppers, black olives, and green bell peppers. Realizing that my Sheetz half sub was more filling and tastier than a Wawa Classic hoagie that cost over twice as much was the first step toward making me the die-hard Sheetz partisan I am today.
These days, Wawa’s topping offering has expanded — though they’re still only giving you two kinds of cheese — and I can get most of the toppings I want on my veggie sub from them. However, Sheetz still has more — pretty much everything I want except mushrooms — and their half sub, which is six inches long, costs the same amount as Wawa’s junior hoagie, which is four inches. I knew I was going to be eating a lot of food for this taste test, so I went ahead and got the four-inch Wawa hoagie to try and save my stomach a little. I would have bought a four-inch Sheetz sub too, if they sold one.
While this was decidedly not true in the early 00s when I first formed my opinion in the great Sheetz vs. Wawa debate, these days, Wawa’s veggie hoagie is much closer to attaining the greatness of a Sheetz sub. However, there was some undeniable additional flavor granted to the Sheetz 3-cheese sub by the addition of pepper jack cheese and a slightly more flavorful dose of oil and vinegar. Wawa ultimately couldn’t quite compete. A Wawa veggie sub will definitely do in a pinch these days, which wasn’t always true. However, the victory for this one has to go to Sheetz. –Marilyn Drew Necci
Breakfast Sandwich: Wawa Turkey Sausage and Egg White Bagel vs. Sheetz Turkey Sausage and Egg White English Muffin
Breakfast is pure comfort food for me. When all else fails for dinner, whether it’s lack of ideas or pure exhaustion, the result is always breakfast on the table. I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur.
I went into this round expecting my beloved Wawa to throw down once again, but I was, dare I say it, shocked. The biggest issue was that the bagel was very rubbery (I understand that it’s on me for expecting James Beard quality from a heat lamp), but also, the protein itself held no flavor. The sandwich was all texture.
However, the sandwich from Sheetz? I could not wolf it down quick enough. There was spice and a bit of a kick to it, plus the cheese was so gooey. It was a struggle to not go back and order another for the road. As much as it pains me to say it, Sheetz takes this round. –Ash Griffith
Breakfast Bagel: Wawa Breakfast Bagel Sizzli vs. Sheetz Breakfast Shmagel
I noticed the clearest and most undeniable divergence between Sheetz and Wawa’s respective offerings when I turned to my breakfast bagels. I had gone simple with the toppings on both of these — as with my veggie sub, I attempted to get as close to the same things as possible on each bagel, so that I wasn’t prejudicing myself because I liked the toppings on one better than the other. I also tried to slim down with these, forgoing meat and getting egg whites instead of eggs because, damn it, I was getting enough calories for this meal as it was.
I don’t think I should have worried too much about the comparison between these, though — they were very different. The Wawa bagel was slightly smaller, came with spinach instead of lettuce, and felt less like a breakfast sandwich and more like some healthy mid-morning snack a rich young housewife would pick up at Panera Bread after the gym. It was an extremely bourgeois bagel, is what I’m trying to say, and I wasn’t into it.
The Sheetz “shmagel,” on the other hand, was exactly what I was looking for, regardless of its goofy name. I wasn’t asked at either place whether I wanted my bagel toasted, but the Sheetz bagel was toasted, and the egg white it came with had an entirely different flavor. It also had lettuce instead of spinach. The overall result was something that tasted like a hearty breakfast meal, rather than a post-workout snack for a bougie gym mom. Maybe I’m a philistine, but for me, this one is Sheetz all the way. — Marilyn Drew Necci
Breakfast Side: Wawa Hash Brown vs. Sheetz French Toast Sticks
I admit this one did not have an even playing field, mostly due to the fact that Wawa did not have french toast sticks, so I just stuck to starch. This one unfortunately was another shocking turn for this Wawa fangirl. The hash brown not only lacked in flavor, but in texture as well. News alert: you do actually have to flavor potatoes. There was absolutely nothing there, and they fell apart almost instantaneously.
The french toast sticks, however, were not only packed with flavor, but remained firm, whether just moving them around in my hand or dipping in syrup. Another bonus? Just the right amount of sweetness. Sheetz brings it home once again. –Ash Griffith
Stuffed Pretzel: Wawa Cream Cheese Stuffed Pretzel vs. Sheetz Cheese Stuffed Pretzel
The proportions on these were fascinating. Despite the fact that I’d knowingly purchased a Wawa sub that was 2 inches shorter than the Sheetz sub, the size difference between Wawa items and Sheetz items was most dramatic when I got to the stuffed pretzels. I mean, look up above — surely you can tell from that photo alone that the Sheetz pretzel was twice the size of the one from Wawa.
Another interesting difference between these two — the Wawa pretzel came from beneath the heat lamp located next to the cash register. The Sheetz pretzel was cooked to order. I’m betting it was pulled straight from the fridge and thrown through a conveyor belt oven, which doesn’t exactly make it lovingly handcrafted, but still, it’s a definite difference.
Here’s the plot twist, though — the Wawa pretzel immediately had the edge. It had that crispy outer shell that you want in a pretzel, and the proportion of gooey inner cheese to crispy, bready outside was perfect. The Sheetz pretzel was doughier and chewier, and not in a good way. Plus, it felt like it was mostly pretzel, not nearly enough cheese — and that pretzel had a texture more like that of a pretzel-shaped roll of bread than an actual pretzel. To top it all off, the Sheetz pretzel was twice as many calories, and this meal was enough of a calorie bomb as it is. I ended up scarfing down the whole Wawa pretzel and only eating about one-fourth of the one from Sheetz. Much as I hate to admit it, Wawa wins this round. Their pretzel game is too strong for Sheetz to ever compete. –Marilyn Drew Necci
Final Score: Sheetz 4, Wawa 2
I admit, I feel vindicated. However, I know the truth — we love our faves for many reasons, not just the level of deliciousness their food is able to attain at 11 on a Saturday morning. The half-joking arguments around the office are likely to continue. I’ll never understand the importance Ash places on coffee, just as she’ll probably never understand why I am ridiculously stoked to patronize an establishment that just might play “Search And Destroy” by Iggy and the Stooges while I’m eating my sub (it’s happened before). In the end, the choice you make in the battle of Sheetz vs. Wawa is personal, and unlikely to be swayed by the results of our taste test. But hey, at least we had fun conducting it. –Marilyn Drew Necci