Next CEO Christopher T. Gheysens Explains Philly’s Wawa Love Affair

Plus: Bangin' quesadillas, healthy eating options and the business's expansion.

Wawa president Christopher T. Gheysens will become the Delco-headquartered convenience giant’s CEO starting in 2013. “I’m feeling humbled to fly the lead goose position,” says Gheysens, 41. Don’t worry, he’s not changing Wawa’s signature coffee recipe. If he gets his way, you’ll get it faster.

First off, how’d Wawa get its name?
Wawa is a Native American term for Canadian goose in flight. [The geese] used to populate the area. The original Delaware County dairy farm that opened in 1964 took its name after that.

Thanks for clearing that up. What changes can we expect at Wawa?
We are going to try to speed up the checkout process by rolling out new registers. Wawa customers make 1.5 million transactions per day. You’ll be able to swipe your debit card before the checkout person rings your items, which will save you time. But other than that, not much will change. My philosophy is, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

What’s your favorite Wawa product?
Currently, it’s the quesadilla. As my 12-year-old would say, it’s bangin’.

Any plans for more health-conscious products?
We’re in tests right now for a new multigrain breakfast sandwich that’s only 250 calories. And we have internal stories where customers have lost tons of weight, just like that other hoagie-making place.

Wawa brand loyalty is intense. Some people wouldn’t be caught dead in a Sheetz. Where does that come from?
We do feel that and see it everyday. And we are very humbled to be part of the Philly fabric. I think that loyalty is born out of the [18,000] store associates. We have signature products and are a one-stop shop, but at Wawa’s core, the love affair is between the associates and our customers. We’ve even had people pose for wedding pictures in our stores.

Will Wawa go global?
We have an aggressive store growth plan. With 600 stores, we’re making inroads in Florida and northern New Jersey. But we have no plan to go national. It’s not about being the biggest, it’s about being the best. We want people to feel like each store is their Wawa.

How’d you get to where you are?
Being in the right place at the right time, but also my dad. Even at 80 years old, he’s a lot of fun and a real hard worker. He earned things the hard way and grew up as a painting contractor. And family was always important to him. I have three brothers and grew up in South Jersey, spent my summers in Sea Isle, graduated from Villanova and then got my MBA at St. Joe’s.

How do you take your coffee?