Crowds of hungry people gathered at the Independence Visitor Center and National Constitution Center lawns on Thursday to sink their teeth into a Philadelphia classic — the Wawa hoagie.

Wawa Hoagie Day is a city-wide tradition that started in 1992 when then-Mayor Ed Rendell designated the hoagie as the "Official Sandwich of Philadelphia." Around the Fourth of July each year, Wawa distributes free hoagies to waiting Philadelphians.

This year, Wawa employees worked together to build and distribute seven tons of hoagies — the largest amount to date.

The build started at 5 a.m. at the National Constitution Center, with Wawa employees arriving as early as 4 a.m. for preparations. The hoagies were made and packaged by volunteer associates and loaded into refrigerated trucks to be distributed to the general public later in the day. Other trucks would take hoagies to food bank Philabundance and nearby veterans centers. A marketing crew designed the recipe and helped with setup and transport, while those more familiar with food handling stuffed the rolls.

The crew made a total of 27,000 individual Shorti rolls. Even with an early start, hoagie-makers were on a tight schedule.

Tamika Miller, assistant general manager of a Northeast Philly Wawa, said she instructed the crew on a new hoagie-making method in order to be more time-efficient. "We do two lines of the oil, the cheese, the meat… [then] the tomatoes, the onions, and then we have a certain way that we tuck it to make it nice and neat. It makes it look more presentable," said Miller. "Presentation is everything."

Miller has been working with Wawa for almost 20 years and said she has attended about nine Wawa Hoagie Days to date. While she's a quick and clean hoagie-maker, she doesn't eat any of the Hoagie Day specials herself.

"I just turned vegan," Miller said. "But, I still [make] it and I take it home for my family. I'm all about Wawa."

The atmosphere of the build was set by a chilly thermostat (to keep the hoagies fresh and cold) and loud music played by Wawa director of operations — and DJ on the side — Marc Maiolino, who in true Philadelphia fashion sported a Carson Wentz jersey.

The employees took a few breaks to let their hair down while singing and dancing along to throwbacks "The Cupid Shuffle" and "Macarena."

When it was time to get back to business, however, there was a strict "hair up, hats on" policy.

Just listing off the ingredients of these bad boys — half turkey, half Italian, both hoagies smothered in oils, onions, meats, veggies, and cheese galore — is enough to make many mouths water.

At least, that's the consensus given by the thousands of hoagie-lovers who lined up Thursday afternoon.

"I love Wawa. I love their coffee. I love their tea. I love their hoagies. I love their breakfast sandwiches — everything Wawa. I'm a Wawa girl," said Shaunda Watson, a West Philly resident who had been waiting in line an hour and a half before the designated giveaway time at noon. "When I finish eating my hoagie, I might go into the Constitution Center for a little bit, and then leave. It's a special time. I love everything that has to do with Welcome America and it's the first event."

Watson's early arrival was not atypical for hoagie-lovers. Others came at 9:30 a.m. or before, including a group from a local daycare center.

Beating the crowds seemed key not only to get the first sandwich, but sandwich. Despite the one person per hoagie rule, many people were seen taking multiple sandwiches, or getting back in line for seconds.

"The line [isn't] worth it, but the food is," said Kayla Island, a junior at Bodine High School, who added that while she would still pay for a hoagie on a normal day, Hoagie Day is worth the trek because "it's nice outside [and] you get to see people. Why not? It's free stuff. Who doesn't love free stuff?"

By the numbers:

On Wawa Hoagie Day, 150 Wawa employees assemble 27,000 hoagies using thousands of pounds of ingredients. We simplified those numbers.
Kristen Balderas
On Wawa Hoagie Day, 150 Wawa employees assemble 27,000 hoagies using thousands of pounds of ingredients. We simplified those numbers.

For some added fun, we decided to shed some perspective on just how much hoagie Philadelphians made (and consumed) this Thursday.

Seven tons of hoagie: That's equivalent to the weight of two adult elephants. Elephants are the largest land mammals.

3,321 pounds of meat: That's equivalent to the size of three brown bears.

13,500 feet of bread: Laid end to end, the bread would stretch almost 8½ miles long, or two airplane runways. The hoagie was cut into 27,000 individual Shorti rolls, meaning they were much easier to transport (and that guests were spared from any accidental Lady and the Tramp action).

37 gallons of oil: That much oil could fill three full tanks of gasoline.

62 pounds of oregano: That's the same weight as seven gallons of milk.

707 pounds of onions: That many onions weigh the same as three pigs.

2,842 pounds of tomato: That many tomatoes translates to the weight of three grand pianos, or enough to fill a small car.

1,780 pounds of lettuce: That's enough to fill 3½ hot tubs.

1,854 pounds of cheese: A crowd favorite, the total amount of provolone cheese packed into Wawa Hoagie Day is enough to fill 5½ bathtubs. If you're a cheese lover, let this mental image of floating in a tub of provolone fondue carry you through the end of this work week.