The line for Wawa Hoagie Day 2023 stretched along Independence Mall. (Deesarine Ballayan/Billy Penn)

Neither heat nor wildfire smoke nor threat of rain deterred the thousands of people who lined up on Independence Mall last week for a free sandwich on Wawa Hoagie Day. 

Wawa has hosted the pre-Fourth of July event every year since 1993 as a part of the Welcome America Festival. Starting at noon last Wednesday, workers handed out 15,000 free hoagies, in addition to the 10,000 given away through Philabundance to veterans experiencing homelessness and other charities. 

It also features a competition between groups of first responders to see who can make the most hoagies the fastest.

At one point, the line of hoagie hopefuls snaked all the way around the National Constitution Center and down Arch Street between 5th and 6th. It moved pretty quickly, but even people who waited 30 or 45 minutes said it was worth it. 

Are Wawa hoagies really that great? And if so, what about skipping the line and heading to the Wawa flagship store a block away at 6th and Chestnut? 

Not the same, people told Billy Penn. 

The general vibe was that it was good because it was free. 

A Wawa banner flies over the National Constitution Center as it hosts the 2023 Wawa Hoagie Day giveaway and competition. (Kerry Sautner/National Constitution Center)

Nina and Mike, an older couple from West Philly who now live in Delaware County said they come out every year: “It’s like a little date in the afternoon.” 

They even brought lawn chairs with them, preparing for a long wait, but said they didn’t have to use them. 

Several others in line also said they came up from Delco — it’s where Wawa’s headquartered, after all — and there were also families from across the river in Camden, New Jersey. Many said they just wanted a reason to get out of the house, and didn’t mind the line; they actually appreciated such a huge turnout. 

Others remarked that they came out to see WMMR’s Preston and Casey as well as the Voices of Service performance.

Al, a military veteran from North Philly, didn’t come to Center City for the express purpose of nabbing a free lunch. 

“I came to renew my license,” he said, referencing the nearby PennDOT center — but was tipped off about the giveaway by others who were there. Discovering the event was “a pleasant surprise,” he said.

A lot of firstcomers assumed they’d just get a sandwich, but were happy that they also got a drink and a snack. 

Turkey and cheese Shorti from Wawa. (Danya Henninger/Billy Penn)

The hoagie came in a reusable Wawa bag with a choice of a Tastykake cookie or bag of Herr’s potato chips, plus water. Andrea, who came with her coworkers, said it was “really well thought out” because the snacks were all Pennsylvania made. She vowed to return next year. 

Ruth Anne, who was wheelchair bound, didn’t have a great experience at first. “Even the Wawa employees are rude this year,” she said. But things were smoothed over. Once one of the workers realized she was in a chair, she and her family were quickly moved to the front of the line and handed their gratis lunch packs.

What do free hoagies have to do with Independence Day, anyway? 

Both were born in this region, observed Rich, who came to the event with a whole group from his office: “It’s a very Philly thing to do.”