HUDSON — Pasco County’s first responders are used to rushing, but county firefighters and Sheriff’s Office deputies have perhaps never rushed like they did at Sept. 10, a day long on fun and short on emergency.

Teams from both agencies went head to head in a Hoagies for Heroes sub-sandwich-making contest as part of the grand opening event at the new Wawa store on State Road 52, just east of Little Road. Following a dance-off by the two teams, which was not judged but appeared to have been won handily by the firefighters, they squared off at tables outside the new store. Armed with cold cuts, toppings and hoagie rolls, they had three minutes to frantically assemble as many subs as they could, their sandwiches judged by the Wawa experts to determine if they met the store’s “standards of excellence.” When the shredded lettuce stopped flying, the contest was judged a tie, and both teams received a check for $1,000 courtesy of Wawa to donate to their chosen charities.

Pride was on the line, however, and there was just one trophy to be awarded. The teams decided the official winner would be decided by a rock-paper-scissors showdown. The deputy representing the Sheriff’s Office learned the hard way that you don’t bring scissors to a rock fight, and the firefighters got the chance to do their own version of the Stanley Cup celebration, raising the trophy high in the air in joyous victory.

The new Wawa is the first in Hudson and one of 10 in Pasco. The Pennsylvania-based company has stores in several states and will open its 200th in Florida in October. The Hudson store will employ 40 people, said Robert Guarino, store manager. Guarino moved to the Hudson area to run the store, after working each of the other Pasco stores and a couple of them in Hillsborough County. He likes the Hudson area.

“I love how the neighborhood has been growing,” said Guarino of the new commercial growth along S.R. 52. “I love to be part of it and look forward to serving the customers, the schools, youth leagues, first responders and everyone twenty-four-seven, three-sixty-five.”

Wawa is a company that started in 1803 as an iron foundry in New Jersey, later becoming a family-owned dairy farm in Wawa, Pennsylvania, led by owner George Wood. When the milk delivery business began to wane in the 1960s, Graham Wood, his grandson, opened the first Wawa food store in 1964. Today Wawa has 750 convenience stores selling food, smoothies, and coffee. Some 500 of them, including the new Hudson store, sell gasoline and diesel fuel.

Pasco Commissioner Jack Mariano, whose district includes the Hudson area, was on hand to welcome the new store and the Hudson Wawa management team was introduced before the official ribbon-cutting ceremony. T-shirts were given to the first 100 people and free coffee was served. The store chain’s mascot, Wawa Wally the Goose, was on hand.

Wawa stores are known for their variety of made-to-order sandwiches, fruit smoothies and coffee drinks. Stores feature seating for those who want to dine in.

According to Jennifer Wolf, Wawa external public relations supervisor, Wawa was recognized in 2018 by Forbes as one of The Best Employers for New Grads and one of The Best Employers for Women, and as the Top Rated Workplace for Veterans by Indeed. In 2019, Wawa was designated by Forbes as a Best Employer for Diversity.