|Headquarters||Norcross, Georgia, US|
Waffle House, Inc., is an American restaurant chain with more than 2,100 locations in 25 states in the United States. Most of the locations are in the South, where the chain is a regional cultural icon. Waffle House is headquartered in an unincorporated part of Gwinnett County, Georgia, near Norcross.
The first Waffle House opened on Labor Day weekend in 1955 at 2719 East College Avenue in Avondale Estates, Georgia. That restaurant was conceived and founded by Joe Rogers Sr. and Tom Forkner, who both continue to own a majority of the company. Rogers started in the restaurant business as a short-order cook in 1947 at the Toddle House in New Haven, Connecticut. By 1949, he became a regional manager with the now-defunct Memphis-based Toddle House chain, then he moved to Atlanta. He met Tom Forkner while buying a house from him in Avondale Estates.
Rogers's concept was to combine the speed of fast food with table service with around-the-clock availability. He told Forkner, "...You build a restaurant, and I’ll show you how to run it," recalls Tom Forkner.
Forkner suggested naming it Waffle House, as waffles were the most profitable item on the 16-item menu. The fragile nature of waffles also made the point that it was a dine-in, not a carry-out, restaurant, but it confused patrons as to meal availability other than breakfast.
Rogers continued to work with Toddle House, and to avoid conflict of interest, sold his interest to Forkner in 1956. In 1960, when Rogers asked to buy into Toddle House, and they refused, he moved back to Atlanta and rejoined Waffle House, now a chain of three restaurants, to run restaurant operations. Shortly after Joe returned full-time, Tom followed suit and left Ben S. Forkner Realty.
After opening a fourth restaurant in 1960, the company began franchising its restaurants and slowly grew to 27 stores by the late 1960s, before growth accelerated. The company is privately held and does not disclose annual sales figures, but says they serve 2% of the eggs used in the nation's food-service industry. The founders limit their involvement in management, and as of 2013[update], Joe Rogers, Jr. was CEO and retired late 2013, and Bert Thornton is President.
Although the Waffle House chain is concentrated in the Southeast, it has reached as far to the north as Austinburg, Ohio, near Ashtabula, as far to the west as Goodyear, Arizona, in the suburbs of Phoenix, as far to the south as Key West, Florida, and as far to the east as the Atlantic Ocean at many points along the East Coast between Florida and Pennsylvania.
In 2007, Waffle House repurchased the original restaurant, which was sold by the chain in the early 1970s and was most recently a Chinese restaurant. The company restored it using original blueprints for use as a private company museum. The museum is used primarily for internal corporate events and tours and is occasionally open to the public.
In 2008, one of the biggest Waffle House franchises in the southeast, North Lake Foods, was bought out by Waffle House, Inc. North Lake Foods filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and closed some stores. Waffle House, Inc. plans to rehabilitate the franchise. In early 2009, East Coast Waffles bought North Lake Foods to become a new franchise.
Waffle & Steak
For years, Waffle House was known as "Waffle & Steak" in Indiana due to another chain of restaurants owning the rights to the Waffle House name in the state. Reportedly, the original Indiana Waffle House chain has started using the name "Sunshine Cafe". However, the d/b/a for "Sunshine Cafe" belongs to "Waffle House Greenwood Inc.", established in 1981. The oldest "Waffle House" entity listed with the Corporations office of the Indiana Secretary of State is "Waffle House of Bloomington, Indiana, Inc." established in 1967, and like Waffle House Greenwood, it is still an active corporation. The Bloomington operation, noted for being the city's second oldest restaurant, closed in 2013 and was demolished to make way for an apartment complex. (Many of the Waffle House corporations in Indiana have been dissolved.) "Waffle House Inc." of Norcross, Georgia registered with Indiana in 1974. In 2005, the Waffle & Steak restaurants all adopted the "Waffle House" moniker, bringing the entire chain under the iconic name.
Apparently inspired by a serious Salmonella problem in 2003 at a Chili's location in Vernon Hills, Illinois, and by four deaths in 1993 from E. coli in undercooked hamburger at a Jack in the Box, the Dateline NBC television news magazine in 2004 investigated sanitation practices of popular American family restaurant chains, measuring the number of critical violations per inspection. The Waffle House averaged 1.6 critical violations per inspection. Waffle House's response to the study pointed out that they prepare all meals in an open kitchen, and consumers can readily observe their sanitation practices themselves.
As with other open-all-night eateries (including White Castle, Krystal, Denny's, and Krispy Kreme), Waffle House has developed into a cultural icon. Part of their fame (especially that of Waffle House) is that they are so prominent along Interstate highways in the South. Jim Ridley wrote in 1997:
The Waffle House is everywhere in the South. It has inspired country songs, comedy routines, loving editorials, a scene in the movie Tin Cup, and even web sites and Internet newsgroups that breathlessly post late-breaking developments. With more than 1700 locations in 25 states, as far north as Ohio and as far west as Arizona, Waffle House is cherished by thousands of diners. Regular customers speak of its employees, its customs, and its food with near reverence. Touring musicians have been known to eat five meals a week there. Yet the Waffle House is so pervasive, it is invisible. It does not advertise; it hides in plain sight.
Waffle House is called the "low-rent roadside cafe featuring waffles" in the 1996 romantic comedy movie Tin Cup, and is also shown in the 2006 film ATL. It is also shown in the movie Due Date when the main character is allergic to waffles, though he picked the restaurant of choice. On the August 15, 2011, episode of WWE Raw, wrestler CM Punk was referred to by fellow wrestler Kevin Nash as looking like "a short order cook from Waffle House" during a promo, which CM Punk replied "Hey, I like Waffle House. I don't know what you got against Waffle House." This has spawned a number of internet memes associating the wrestler with Waffle House and his persona of being the voice of the common man. A Waffle House in Nashville was the setting for a routine by the stand-up comedian Bill Hicks.
In popular music, Waffle House is referred to in the songs "The Bad Touch" by the Bloodhound Gang and "24 Hours" by TeeFlii as well as in the title of the Hootie & the Blowfish album Scattered, Smothered, and Covered.
The chain's restaurants almost always have jukeboxes, which have traditionally played 45-rpm singles, and, in some cases, CDs. Often, the entire first column of selections and much of the second column would have songs about Waffle House and its food. Many of the songs are written and/or sung by people with connections to the chain, such as Mary Welch Rogers. The songs are on ordinary discs, which are produced for Waffle House and are not commercially sold, but the chain has made a CD of some of the songs available for sale. In 2012-13, most (if not all) of the locations have scrapped the 45-rpm/CD jukeboxes in favor of digital touchscreen jukeboxes, which, at Waffle House restaurants, still feature all of the original Waffle House songs.
The servers use a proprietary version of diner lingo to call in orders, and the menu suggests some use of the same lingo when placing orders for hash brown potatoes: "scattered" (spread on the grill), "smothered" (with onions), "covered" (with cheese), "chunked" (with diced ham), "diced" (with diced tomatoes), "peppered" (with jalapeño peppers), "capped" (with mushrooms), "topped" (with chili), and "all the way" (with all available toppings). Recently, the option of "country" was added for hashbrowns with sausage gravy on them.
Association with right-wing politics
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Waffle House is one of the top four corporations, along with Wal-Mart, The Home Depot, and Lowe's, for disaster response. Waffle House has an extensive disaster management plan with on-site and portable generators and positioned food and ice ahead of severe weather events such as a hurricane. This helps mitigate the effects of a storm on the power grid and the supply chains. The ability of a Waffle House to remain open after a severe storm, possibly with a limited menu, is used by FEMA as a measure of disaster recovery known as the Waffle House index.
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