Wawa CEO Condemns Antisemitic Incident at Delco Store as “Disgusting”
A conversation about the so-called Christmas Wars turned into something much different in Upper Darby on Thursday.
My Thursday began much as any other Thursday begins. Dropped the kids off at school. Checked in on the news of the day. Ate some breakfast. But I was out of milk. And I just can’t drink coffee without milk. So off to Wawa I went. No, not to buy milk. That would have been sensible. To get a coffee from the Wawa coffee bar and add Wawa milk to it.
I visited the Wawa on West Chester Pike in Upper Darby around 8:45 a.m. And as I was there, I encountered two Wawa employees engaged in conversation.
One complained to the other that Wawa management had instructed employees to refer to “Christmas cookies” as “holiday cookies.” My first thought was, Wasn’t this a thing like 20 years ago? But then the employee elaborated. “There’s only one Christmas, so why aren’t we allowed to celebrate it?” the worker asked rhetorically. “Tell me about it,” the coworker replied.
“Those Jews already have too many holidays,” the original Wawa worker continued, before listing three of them, mispronouncing them all. “And yet we Christians can’t have even one holiday to ourselves. But the Jews get what they want. Always.”
At first, I thought the coworker was just sort of playing along with various acknowledgements and interjections. Right … Uh huh … But then the coworker played a card of their own.
“But when the minorities complain, they always get what they want,” the coworker pontificated. “And we are left with nothing.”
It was at this point that I walked towards the two employees, lidded coffee cup in my hand. I’m not sure why I did that exactly. It was all happening so fast. The thought of speaking up — and speaking out — certainly went through my head. And then the Wawa worker complaining about the so-called Christmas wars and Jewish people took it one step further.
“But we can’t let them get what they want,” the Wawa employee said. “We have to crush them. We have to beat them down.”
Maybe I’m naive, but I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. A rant about “holiday cookies” quickly devolved into straight-up antisemitism. Then, with the help of the coworker, that turned into racism. And then the first Wawa worker really went for the gusto. “Crush them … Beat them down …” If that doesn’t sound like white supremacist rhetoric, I’m not sure what does.
I’m well aware that people have these thoughts. Antisemitism, racism, and white supremacy abound. I’m well aware that people who hold these beliefs probably express them at home or with likeminded friends. And I know people say all kinds of things like this on social media, often while sitting behind anonymous accounts.
But here I was. The morning rush. In a public place with lots of strangers milling about. And this Wawa worker feels empowered enough to say these horrible things at their workplace. With a name tag on. And, again, these Wawa employees weren’t whispering. I could hear them clear as could be, as I’m sure could others, assuming they were even paying attention.
I didn’t say anything to the Wawa employees. I’m not sure if I regret that or not.
Unfortunately, I’ve been in the position before of talking to people who espoused some pretty horrendous beliefs, and when there’s just major logic gaps in their thinking — as is the case with what this Wawa worker was saying — it never goes anywhere.
It’s kind of like trying to debate somebody who believes that all of the Challenger astronauts are alive and that there was never actually a shooting at the school in Sandy Hook. Yes, I’ve encountered these points of view. Trying to have any kind of intelligent conversation with people like this is futile. Plus, in this day and age, you never know how somebody is going to react no matter how civil your outreach begins.
Not long after I left the Upper Darby Wawa, I posted about the antisemitism and other remarks on my personal Facebook page and in an Upper Darby Facebook group, tagging the Wawa store in question in both cases. Quickly, Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens sent me an email.
“This is disgusting behavior and will be swiftly dealt with,” Gheysens told me. “I am sorry this occurred and apologize profusely. Unacceptable in every way and not representative of anything we at Wawa believe.”
I followed up with Gheysens, asking him how Wawa would be dealing with this particular incident and also asking what kind of training Wawa gives to its employees, from a part-time clerk to a regional manager. Here is the full statement he sent me:
We handle situations like this swiftly and hands on with senior management. That’s why my initial response was quick. By the time of my response, our COO and other leaders were engaged and already at the store. Our leadership team and I are coordinating closely on this matter, because of the severity of the concern. It is simply contrary to everything we stand for.
There is an active and comprehensive investigation that’s already begun at this store. As part of that, would you be open to being contacted so we can learn any further information you may have? That will ensure we have 100% of the facts of this situation as well as a broader view of the culture in this location.
Wawa provides DEI training at hiring and intervals for all leadership and every single associate during their career journey. In the end, our brand stands for always being a place where everyone feels welcome.
I also reached out to Brandyn Campbell, an Exton-based DEI consultant with 20 years of experience in the DEI industry. Campbell said she wasn’t surprised by my experience at Wawa, given the climate in the country. Incidents of antisemitism are surging.
“We have a former president who is calling folks ‘vermin,'” she pointed out. “And that is terrifying, openly using horrific language like that, language that preceded, well, genocide. It’s all in the open, all this antisemitism and hate. In the past ten years or so, people now feel emboldened to say things like this. They say what they want with no filter, no matter where they are. And this has naturally boiled down into the corporate world. So many companies are having problems like this.”
It’s unclear specifically how Wawa is going to address Thursday’s incident, which is understandable given that the company needs time to investigate and act on the matter fully. (I told Gheysens that, yes, an investigator could contact me. I also made it clear that I didn’t think firing the employees involved was the right path forward.)
Campbell insists there’s no simple fix.
“When things like this happen, you typically hear ‘mandatory DEI training,'” she says. “And while it’s important that happens, the challenge with DEI is that it’s not one and done. It’s not a checklist. It’s not, Well, we did this, and now it’s good. Companies like Wawa need to get to the heart of the matter and dig into their corporate culture. It’s a soul-searching moment. Do we care about this with every fiber of our being? Or is it just lip service?”