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    Wawa’s first Florida drive-thru store opens in Largo. People were excited.

    By Tampa Bay Newspapers,

    A WaWa with drive-thru had its grand opening recently in Largo. [ Jeff Rosenfield, Tampa Bay Newspapers ]

    LARGO – Wawa, the national gas and grocery chain founded 60 years ago in Pennsylvania that now has more than 1,000 locations nationwide, opened its first drive-thru site in the state of Florida on Thursday in Largo.

    The 2,200-square-foot store is at 2530 E. Bay Drive near the intersection of Starkey Road. The special occasion saw cars and people lined up outside the drive-thru-only facility that will offer many of the company’s staples, including coffee, breakfast sandwiches and its signature hoagies. It also offers new items, such as burgers and fries and specialty beverages, to motorists traveling along the city’s busy east-west corridor.

    Prior to the ribbon cutting, Largo Mayor Woody Brown spoke about the franchise that’s beloved in the northeast building its first standalone drive-thru in the state, and just the third in the country, here in Largo.

    “Anytime something new to the state of Florida decides to come here to Largo, of all cities in the state, it’s a cool thing,” Brown said before helping to cut the ribbon alongside fellow local lawmakers, commissioners Michael Smith, Donna Holck and Curtis Holmes.

    “So, we’re excited. And obviously, these people are, too,” he said.

    Indeed, the excitement for the store’s opening, which had been building since the news was announced last July, reached fever pitch early Thursday morning, as a pair of Wawa fanatics arrived at 4:30 a.m. to beat the crowd and receive one of 100 commemorative T-shirts.

    “I saw on the news it was opening, and I love Wawa coffee, so I wanted to get here early to beat the crowd,” Dunedin resident Peyton Harbert, who also received a bag of Wawa goodies for being first in line, said as she conducted interviews with a fellow early bird, Patricia Minder of St. Petersburg.

    Minder, who has attended several milestone Wawa grand openings in the area, said, “It was pitch black, and no one was here, except security,” while waving to the huge crowd that had formed since then.

    The affinity for the company, which was founded by Grahame Wood in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, in April 1964, was apparent at the ceremony, which featured representatives of the Largo police and fire departments participating in a hoagie-building challenge for charity that featured food flying everywhere.

    Near the red tents set up in the parking lot to combat the early morning heat, many attendees danced and posed for photos with Wally Goose, the Wawa company mascot, including Largo resident, Andi Studnitzer.

    “I’ve been a huge Wawa fan since my days living in New Jersey — Thanksgiving in a bowl was my favorite — and I think it’s great to have this location here in Largo,” Studnitzer said.

    “I’m super excited I don’t even have to get out of my car!”

    According to Wawa Director of Store Operations Nancy Dulaney, the excitement seen at the scene of the company’s first Florida drive-thru location solidified their decision to select the city for the landmark store.

    “We have always had a great relationship with the city of Largo, dating to when we first came to Florida,” Dulaney said after dual ribbon cuttings, one at the door and one at the entrance to the drive-thru lanes. “So, it was a natural area for us to put the first one here because of the reputation we have in the community.”

    As for the fanfare starting at such an early hour and spilling over into the street, where a line of cars patiently waited for the 9 a.m. grand opening, Dulaney said it was par for the course for those who love Wawa.

    “It’s not a one-time thing,” she said. “Wawa continues to be a big part of the community, through our many stores and our charitable efforts, and the community continues to turn out and support us because of that.”

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