Wawa Welcome America was in full swing last week when the convenience store giant brought its annual Hoagie Day celebration to Independence Mall.
The day also served up its fair share of friendly competition in a unique tradition: the city’s Police Department - including officers from the 26th district in Fishtown - versus its Fire Department in a hoagie building battle.
Representatives for the fire department upset the Police Department’s undefeated record and crushed them in the sandwich showdown.
On Wednesday, June 27, thousands packed the green and grassy yard in front of the very building where the Declaration of Independence was signed, and all of them were hungry and ready for a piece of the two and a half ton hoagie that Wawa created for the day.
Hoagie Day has become something of a tradition every Fourth of July, ever since Wawa started it in Philadelphia in 1992. At the time, Wawa served a 500-foot hoagie and Ed Rendell, then mayor, proclaimed the hoagie the official sandwich of the city.
This year’s giant hoagie was created with 15,000 rolls, over 500 pounds each of ham, salami and proscuttini and 1,000 pounds of cheese. It was dubbed the “4.5 Ton Salute to Our Troops,” as the day honored soldiers and local heroes.
During the day, Wawa CEO Howard Stoeckel presented the USO with a check for $100,000, and throughout Independence Mall kiosks were set up for residents to write letters to soldiers overseas.
Joe Brooks, president of the USO of Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey, said that the funds from Wawa weren’t the only support that the convenience store chain provides to the military.
“Few companies actually understand that soldiers need support every day of the year. Wawa is one of those companies,” said Brooks, who said that throughout the year, Wawa provides the military with supplies and food, like juices and ice teas.
“Wawa gives product to the military for free,” he said.
As the thousands gathered on Independence Mall began to dig in to their free portions of the mammoth sandwich, Mayor Michael Nutter took to the stage to introduce hoagie building contest.
In the contest, the two teams had three minutes to create as many hoagies as possible. Before last week’s co test, the police team was undefeated, with a record of three to nothing.
But before the police and fire departments got to throw down, two teams from the PA National Air and Armed Guards took the stage for a lettuce slinging, hoagie roll flinging competition.
When the dust – and the tomato and onion – had settled, the PA National Air Guard came out on top with a total of 75 hoagies to the Armed Guard’s 55.
As the Police and Fire Department teams took the stage, the mayor smiled and said he was excited for the rivalry.
“This is an incredible culinary tradition in the City of Philadelphia,” said Nutter of Hoagie Day. “As Marvin Gaye says, ‘Let’s get it on!’”
Yet due to a fire that day at Lorenzo’s Pizza at South and Third streets, the Fire Department team couldn’t participate. Instead, Philadelphia Police officers and Wawa employees filled the Fire Department’s team.
That new team won, demolishing the Police Department’s undefeated record with a total of 85 to 80.
“They had ringers,” said Annamae Law with a laugh.
As the community relations officer for the 26th police district in Fishtown, it was the fourth year Law had participated in the Hoagie Day event. This year, it included officers from the 2nd, 15th and 26th police districts.
She said that it didn’t matter who won or lost, because in the end the event was all in good fun, and Wawa donated $3,000 to the charity of choice to all of the teams that participated in the event.
Law also pointed out another beneficial aspect of the day’s events.
“Look around, this might be the only meal some of the people here get to eat today,” she said. “So, yeah, I think this is important.”
Star Staff Reporter Hayden Mitman can be contacted at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org.