For years, South Jersey had one top dog when it came to convenience stores — Wawa. The chain — with its famous goose mascot on its logo — started in Pennsylvania in 1964 and has been a staple in our neck of the woods for decades, serving up everything from coffee and donuts to newspapers, candy bars and giant meatball subs. Most Wawa locations stay open 24 hours-a-day, making it as much of a go-to spot for earlybirds grabbing a quick bite on their way to work as it is for party animals making one last stop on the way home from the bar.
But last April, a new competitor threw it’s proverbial hat into the ring. Royal Farms, a Baltimore-based gas station/convenience store hybrid offering many of the same goods and services as our beloved Wawa, decided to set up shop just down the street at the corner of Fire and Tilton roads in Egg Harbor Township. And just recently plans have been announced for a second Royal Farms to be built in Egg Harbor Township, this time at the former site of Flat Stone Grill on the Black Horse Pike.
But no matter how many stores they build, can Royal Farms ever truly expect to dethrone Wawa as the unofficial king of South Jersey kwikie marts? We decided to do a little comparison to see what each spot has to offer.
In addition to the usual items carried by most convenience stores, Royal Farms is best known for their fried chicken. Well-seasoned, never frozen, hand breaded on site and offered with a variety of dipping sauces (including their signature Chesapeake sauce), Royal Farms is a legit contender in the world of fried chicken. So much so that we would say The Colonel should be worried.
But should Wawa? Being that the only fried chicken options on the menu at Wawa are pre-breaded chicken patties, tenders and the like, they aren’t exactly a go-to spot for fried chicken anyway, so it may be a moot point.
In case the chicken didn’t have you running to Royal Farms, their thick, wedge-cut Western Fries just might. Another signature item, these large and starchy treats are popular for good reason, and much like the chicken, they pair well with a variety of dipping sauces. Wawa has not yet entered the world of French fries.
The menu options
While both stores offer touch screen-enabled menus, which spot you choose really just depends on what you are in the mood for.
Wawa offers a broad range of items such as sourdough melts, flatbreads and quesadillas, alongside mac and cheese bowls, rice bowls, stuffing, meatballs, chili and, of course, a variety of both hot and cold subs.
Royal Farms has many of the same items on their menu, with bowls, burgers and breakfast sandwiches and the like, but in the end, it’s all about that chicken. Royal Farms even gives guests the ability to order a pulled chicken sandwich made from their famous fried chicken, and also offers the option to choose light or dark meat on said sandwich — this is a game changer.
For those who don’t have the patience to wait for a freshly prepared snack, both Wawa and Royal Farms offer up multiple grab-and-go options with everything from salads to prewrapped cold subs. Hot items are available too, with Wawa’s most beloved of these including their bagel melts and stuffed pretzels. Royal Farms offers pre-packaged hot sandwiches, including a breaded chicken sandwich, but be forewarned — this is NOT the same chicken as one would receive if ordering their pulled chicken variety.
In the end Wawa offers more overall menu options, and thus has the advantage when it comes to variety.
Like just about all gas stations and convenience stores, both Wawa and Royal Farms have a variety of donuts and baked goods for the choosing. Some lower end competitors only offer the prepackaged stuff from Hostess and Tastykake, whereas both Wawa and Royal farms have display cases stocked with (hopefully) fresh versions of donuts and the like.
Royal Farms offers the cult favorite Krispy Kreme brand of donuts, with a variety of options from said brand including custard and crème-filled alongside the signature glazed donut that put Krispy Kreme on the map. The downside here is that Krispy Kreme’s glazed donuts are known for being best when served hot (Krispy Kreme stores actually have a light up sign indicating when hot fresh donuts are available). Royal Farms does not produce these treats on site, therefore no opportunity to enjoy them piping hot and fresh exists.
Wawa also has a case stocked with everything from donuts to apple fritters, but opts to use an in-house variety, so there is no tie-in with any nationally recognized brand of baked goods. That said, Wawa’s baked goods are often delicious, but like all donut shops, it’s best to get ’em while they are fresh, otherwise a stale, disappointing experience may lie ahead.
It’s going to be tough for Royal Farms to just waltz in and steal the crown off Wawa’s imaginary head in the hoagie department. After all, they have been offering both signature and build-your-own varieties of these sandwiches round the clock for loyal South Jerseyans for as long as we can remember. Their rolls are fresh and though the sandwiches may not be up to the level of your favorite deli, they sure beat the pants off anything you might find at your average gas station.
Royal Farms also offers a large selection of subs, so this one is really going to come down to personal tastes. But to dethrone the king it’s going to take something really special.
Both spots feature just about every beverage you could possibly desire, including coffees, slushies, milkshakes, fountain sodas and case after case of refrigerated options, such as sports drinks, iced teas, juices, energy drinks and waters. No clear advantage here.
Not all Wawa locations have gas stations attached to them, but more and more are popping up. And the good news is that the price at the Wawa pumps is often significantly cheaper than many gas stations in the area.
Royal Farms currently only has one location in our neck of the woods, so it may not be a fair comparison, but they do offer multiple pumps to fill ’er up and yes, their prices are also well below average.
South Jersey is a wonderful, welcoming region of the country, a space that has long thrived on the tradition of folks coming from out of state to visit our beautiful beaches and exciting boardwalks, but we are also a fairly loyal bunch, which means Royal Farms will have to work overtime to win the hearts of Wawa devotees.
“Wawa combines everything that’s great about a good deli, a good convenience store and a good gas station,” says Hammonton native and Wawa enthusiast Rebecca King. “The fact that I can get my gas — usually cheaper than at any other gas station — and get a really delicious hoagie and milkshake all in one place makes Wawa my personal heaven. You can’t beat the range of Wawa,”
Of course, there is no denying the power of a delicious piece of fried chicken. In fact it may be enough to sway even the most loyal local.
“To be honest, I had never even heard of Royal Farms until it popped up on the corner a few months ago,” says Edward Pinetti of Egg Harbor Township. “I was always a Wawa guy. And when you hear people telling you that you have to try the fried chicken at some gas station you never heard of … well, it’s a little hard to believe. But they were right. All it took me was one bite!”