BRADENTON -- Donuts, scrambled eggs and fruity frozen beverages were a few of the 700 different samples offered Thursday morning at Bradenton's newest Wawa location.
The 700 samples and 700 T-shirts given away to customers marked the convenience chain's 700th store opening at 5306 14th St. W. The store's 700th customer received a gift basket. And before launching a hoagie competition, Wawa employees and customers participated in a parade of history beginning in 1803 when the company began as an iron foundry in New Jersey.
As a part of the celebration, the store, which brought 45 new jobs, offered grand opening specials such as 59-cent fountain drinks of any size and Shorti hoagie sandwiches for $2.99 all day. Free coffee will be available through Aug. 30.
"We are delighted to mark the milestone of our 700th store chainwide with the Bradenton community," Chris Gheysens, Wawa president and CEO said in a release from the company.
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More than 400 Wawa locations, including the 14th Street store, sell gasoline.
As new customers and longtime Wawa fans roamed the crowded parking lot,
Manatee County deputies and firefighters from the Cedar Hammock Fire Rescue prepared to face off in a three-minute hoagie competition.
As they watched deputies and firefighters pile meat, cheese and toppings on the fluffy hoagie bread, Bradenton residents who live close to the 14th Street store expressed their excitement about having Wawa in the neighborhood.
"It's funny because two months ago, I Facebooked everyone and asked if they knew when it was going to open," said 15-year Bradenton resident Tanya Disney. "And one of my smarty friends said, 'when it opens.' So I wanted to get back at them and be the first customer here."
Disney got her wish and was the first person to walk through the door Thursday morning.
Wawa's custom-made hoagies are Disney's favorite part about the convenience chain.
"You can put whatever you want on them," Disney said. "I like the spicy chicken. You can get it exactly how you like it and it's fresh."
Jeanne Martin has lived in Bradenton for 12 years and moved from Wawa's home state of Pennsylvania.
"I love their pretzels, iced tea and fresh hoagies," Martin said. The meatball hoagie is Martin's favorite.
In the second half of the sandwich-making race, the Southeast High School dance team and football team competed to make the most sandwiches while the high school's band trumpeted their own renditions of popular tunes such as Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk."
Cedar Hammock Fire Rescue took away the win from the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and the Southeast High School dance team won against the football players by making one extra sandwich.
Winning teams and runners-up received checks to present to the charity of their choice. A total of $2,000 was donated to the Manatee County Substance Abuse Coalition. The Southeast High School band and football team received $500 each.
In addition to hoagies, Wawa offers a variety of beverages including hot and iced coffee, fountain drinks, frozen beverages, pastries and on-the-go snacks and meals. The 14th Street location sells packaged beer and liquor and is open 24 hours.
The 700th store opening cements Wawa's foray into the region. Bradenton has one other open Wawa location at 701 1st St. E. On Sept. 10, a Wawa will open at 4455 State Road 64 East will open, and another location at State Road 70 and Lorraine Road will open sometime this fall.
Peter Gilligan, vice president and chief real estate officer for Wawa, said the company continues to expand in Bradenton because of the "terrific reception" in the community.
"The whole Gulf Coast is a combination of people who know us and who connect back to us from the northeast," Gilligan said. "Plus lots of native Floridians. It's a great year-round community and seasonal community."
By the end of 2016, Wawa hopes to open its 100th store in the Sunshine State. Wawa also operates in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia and Maryland.
Janelle O'Dea, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow her on Twitter@jayohday.