The hoagie promotion powering the Phillies to the World Series

Wawa's Schwarberfest has taken the city by storm

October 28th, 2022
Art by Tom Forget

Philadelphia Magazine probably summed up its city's obsession with sandwiches best in a story from 2019:

"Eating hoagies in Philly is like breathing. We do it without even thinking."

There's the famous roast pork, there's the hundreds of corner-side Italian delis, there's of course The Philly Cheesesteak -- devoured at well-established eateries like Pat's and Geno's and the myriad of other underrated shops your Philly friend from college went on about: "No, no, no, you gotta go here."

So, it shouldn't be a surprise -- in fact, it should only feel right -- that the Phillies' dramatic run to the World Series has been boosted by a hoagie promotion.

Wawa, the ever-popular Philly gas station/eatery, has been around since 1964. You've probably heard people from New Jersey or Philadelphia talk fondly about ordering a sub on one of its kiosks, or maybe you've had the distinct pleasure of doing it yourself during one way-too-late summer night down the shore.

And every year since 2008, they've hosted a promotion known as Hoagiefest: Sandwiches are offered at discounted rates ($5 shorti or $6 regular) to benefit world hunger. It's a great deal and, as Wawa senior media relations manager Lori Bruce told me over email, it's, of course, been "a huge hit with our customers."

Just take it from noted Phillies/Wawa fan Chris Morris:

"Hoagiefest has been a big thing here for years," the 27-year-old Philadelphian, who says he's eaten more than 1,000 of the sandwiches in his lifetime, told me in a call. "You get the discount on hoagies and I certainly take advantage of it."

But this past June, it became something more: The promo coincided with a mammoth breakout from Phillies outfielder Kyle Schwarber. Schwarber hit 12 homers, put up 27 RBIs and slashed at a .272/.385/.680 clip during Hoagiefest.

Perhaps fueled by dozens upon dozens of Gobbler sandwiches, perhaps just by mere coincidence.

The performance helped catapult the Phillies back into contention. Fans, like Morris, fell in love with Schwarber during the midsummer streak.

"He's the perfect kind of character to play here in Philly," Morris said. "He's really endeared himself to the fan base. He's a great locker room glue guy. You can tell he just brings positive vibes."

Philadelphia eventually got to the playoffs by securing the third NL Wild Card spot, they beat the favored Cardinals in the first round and then took down the defending-champion Braves in the Division Series. But something wasn't right. Something was off.

Kyle Schwarber wasn't hitting.

The Phillies slugger was 1-for-20 with no home runs and just two RBIs in those first two rounds. If the team wanted to get past the Padres and reach its first World Series in 13 seasons, they'd need their NL home run king to hit like an NL home run king. Wawa knew what it needed to do.

"As Philadelphia made the playoffs for the first time in 11 years, some fans and outlets on social media asked why Wawa couldn’t host a special return of the Hoagiefest promotion in honor of this performance and the team’s success," Bruce said. "They asked, and we listened."

Hoagiefest, with a slight change in name to Schwarberfest, went back into effect on Oct. 18. And that very night, in the first game of the Phillies' NLCS against the Padres, the man for whom the promotion was named responded with one of the longest home runs in October history.

Teammate Bryce Harper, a man who's hit some deep and dramatic dingers in his own career, couldn't believe how far it went.

The Phillies won Game 1, 2-0, and won the series convincingly, four games to one. Schwarber finished the NLCS with three homers, four RBIs and a ridiculous .400/.571/1.000 slash line.

The buzz around the promo paired with the underdog Phillies reaching the Fall Classic, the huge homers and a diehard Philly fanbase, has reached levels unseen. Morris sees the team, and the atmosphere around the city, as similar to when the surprise 2007 Phillies squad came back to take the division away from the Mets.

"It was a fury, it was a frenzy," he recalled. "It was this wave of energy that the crowd had, and that the city had behind them."

Schwarberfest will, as expected, continue throughout the World Series. Philadelphians will continue to partake in the too-good-to-pass-up hoagie deal as they root on their hometown team. And while most rational human beings might quickly call Schwarber's hot streak happening alongside the hoagie festival just lucky timing, Morris strongly believes otherwise.

"I don't think it's even a coincidence," Morris said. "They bring back Schwarberfest, Kyle's eyes probably light up, 'It's time to turn it on now.'"