The history of Waffle House and its southern roots


Waffle House, Inc. is an American restaurant chain with 2,100 locations in 25 states in the United States. Most locations are in the South, where the chain is a regional cultural icon. Waffle House (WH) is headquartered in the Atlanta metropolitan area in Norcross, Georgia.


Waffle house buildingThe Waffle House was invented by two men named Joe Rogers Sr. and Tom Forkner. They met in 1949 when Rogers purchased a Georgia house from Forkner.

Rogers then worked at the Toddle House diner chain in Tennessee, and Forkner was in local real estate. These two men decided they wanted to open a people-oriented restaurant and decided to combine the speed of fast food with the novelty of round-the-clock table service. (At the time, only one other restaurant in Atlanta offered 24-hour service.)

According to the company’s history, there were no plans to open additional restaurants, but that changed in 1957 when they bought their second location. By 1961, they had four different restaurants. They continued to expand throughout the 1960s and later became a ubiquitous establishment with bright yellow signs. Both men passed away in early 2017.

Forkner was the one who came up with the idea to name the restaurant Waffle House. “It was the most lucrative item you could do, so I said, ‘Call it Waffle House and encourage people to eat waffles,'” Forkner told the Associated Press. Waffles aren’t necessarily for takeout, so the men thought the moniker would also let people know it was a place they could sit and hang out for a while.

Potato pancakes have names. 

One of the main WH traditions focuses on what you’d like your potato pancakes to be: sliced, diced, peppered, covered, etc. Interestingly, most of these options were not on the original WH menu. At first, they were grilled and fried with onions. The choice of toppings was introduced in the 1980s.

The menu never rests. 

The WH is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Also, it doesn’t matter what time you stop to eat; there are no specific hours for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. For example, you don’t have to worry about ordering steak at 4 a.m.

The staff has a food code.

In most restaurants, waiters communicate with the kitchen through some sort of ticket system and, in some cases, verbally. But WH has a code that allows waiters and chefs to communicate through basic food items without words. For example, a bag of jelly placed at the bottom of a plate means scrambled eggs. A bag of mustard lying face up on the plate means pork chops, and upside down means rustic ham.

WH has a music label.

The jukeboxes you’ll find at WH include music that sounds pretty standard if you don’t listen carefully. But you won’t find some of these songs on a regular jukebox. Rather, they are songs produced by Waffle House’s label, Waffle Music. The idea originated back in the 1980s when co-founder Joe Rogers Sr. wanted WH-inspired music to play in their restaurants.

They serve an insane amount of waffles.

“WH wasn’t named after the most popular item on the menu, but after the item that makes the most money-the humble waffle. Nevertheless, they sell enough to earn their name-about 145 waffles per minute. They also sell approximately 341 strips of bacon every 60 seconds, as well as 238 hashbrowns.

They used to sell Chick-fil-A sandwiches. 

Chick-fil-A and WH are separate and distinct restaurant chains. But there was a time when they overlapped, as you used to be able to buy Chick-fil-A sandwiches at WH. Some luck back in 2015, when WH in Athens teamed up with Chick-fil-A for a chicken and waffle event that was pretty popular, so maybe they’ll team up nationally again someday.

The first restaurant is now a museum.

Waffle house museumThe original WH Diner in Avondale Estates, Georgia, has been turned into a museum that is open to the public by appointment. Visitors can tour the restaurant, now restored to look exactly as it did when it opened in 1955. There’s also on display WH memorabilia from the past 60 years.

You can tour the restaurant and the building next door, which is full of artifacts. Everything from dishwashers to uniforms and old menus is housed there.

Some rappers create their music around the theme of Waffle House, like one Mr. Jelly Roll from Tennessee. His mixtape “Whiskey, Weed & Waffle House,” released earlier this year, was a stirring ode to his favorite breakfast spot.

They’ve been sued.

WH isn’t just about comfort food and Southern hospitality if some of their customers are to be believed. In fact, they have been sued several times by visitors for experiencing racist behavior from employees. In 2005, four separate lawsuits were filed by black customers who were allegedly denied service, served unsanitary food, or insulted. Despite the allegations, WH denies any wrongdoing. “We serve all races,” said co-founder Joe Rogers. – “We’re just a target. We’re not guilty and never have been.”

Director was accused of sexual misconduct.

There was a case where a woman accused the then CEO, now chairman of WH, of sexual assault. According to her, Joseph Rogers Jr. (son of co-founder Joseph Rogers Sr.) forced her to “perform sexual favors” and repeatedly tried to impose during her nine-year tenure as his assistant and housekeeper.

Rogers filed suit against the woman after it emerged that she had secretly recorded one of their sexual encounters to support her accusation. The woman and her attorneys were later charged with videotaping as well as extortion, leading to a tangled web of lawsuits that are still unresolved years later.

WH used to sell chicken sandwiches.

WH was once licensed to sell chicken sandwiches by Chick-fil-A, which is also headquartered in suburban Atlanta. However, the sandwiches allegedly became so popular that people stopped ordering dishes from their regular menu, so WH decided to back out of the deal.

WH often tests new dishes to add to its menu.

If you find yourself at a place serving one of the chain’s new dishes in test mode, visit the WH website to leave your feedback (if you want it to become a regular menu item).

WH buys 2 percent of all U.S. eggs annually.

The chain has made more than 2 billion eggs since it opened in 1955. The restaurant buys 2 percent of all eggs produced annually in the United States.

WH is the world’s top producer of steaks on the bone.

WH also produces steaks at a dizzying rate. The chain serves four T-bones every minute. According to the restaurant, it serves more bone-in steaks than any other establishment in the world: since 1955, the restaurant has grilled more than 134,842,441 bone-in steaks.

WH offers more than 300 bacon strips per minute.

Waffle house interior341 strips every 60 seconds, to be exact. The chain also serves 238 orders of potato pancakes, 145 waffles, 110 sausages, and 127 cups of coffee per minute.

Executives work on holidays, too.

Because WH is always open, employees have to work weekends and holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. And while it may seem unfair to restaurant workers, WH executives also don’t get days off. The co-founders made it a requirement in solidarity with the chefs and waiters.

Community Involvement

While all WH restaurants are part of a larger chain, each maintains ties to the local community. This may include supporting a local public school, partnering with community organizations, hosting special fundraising projects, or other beneficial partnerships. Stop by your local WH and talk to the manager if you want more information.

WH used to be known in Indiana as Waffle & Steak.

Another restaurant chain owned the rights to the WH name in Indiana before WaHo began opening franchises there in the 1970s. So WH was known as “Waffle & Steak” in Hoosier State for many years. But in 2005, Waffle & Steak restaurants in Indiana were finally able to change their name to WH.

You can make reservations for a candlelight dinner on Valentine’s Day.

Some WH establishments have been offering waffle lovers a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner with white tablecloths, rose petals, and candles (plus stewed potato pancakes and natch) for the past eight years. Reservations are quick, so book them quickly if that’s your idea of true romance.

Crisis management

FEMA relies on them. Despite Waffle House’s promise to always be open, even when everyone else is closed, there are some cases where they have to close due to circumstances beyond their control, such as hurricanes or other natural disasters. However, once the storm passes and the water recedes, they usually reopen fairly quickly unless catastrophic damage occurs.

When a hurricane approaches, Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA], uses some tools to estimate its destructive potential. First, there is the well-known Saffir-Simpson scale, which measures wind intensity. And then there’s what he calls the WH Index.

If it’s green, a particular restaurant offers its full menu, which means that damage in that area is limited, and meals are included. If it is yellow, the menu is more limited; electricity is at best supplied by a generator, and food supplies are limited. If it’s red, the restaurant is closed, indicating severe damage to the area or dangerous weather conditions. “If you find a closed door at your local WH, that’s pretty bad. And that means we have work to do,” summarizes the FEMA chief.

WH, headquartered in the Atlanta suburb of Norcross, Georgia, has 1,900 restaurants from the Atlantic coast to the Gulf of Mexico to Florida, making it particularly vulnerable to hurricanes. Of course, its restaurants are just working to reopen as quickly as possible after a disaster. But WH, which has an advertising budget of almost zero, has built its entire marketing strategy around the excellent image that comes from being open at the most critical times for customers.

In Weldon, North Carolina, the hurricane knocked out power on Saturday night, the 27th. When the sun rose over the small tobacco-growing town at 6:30 a.m. the next day, the local WH still had no power but was already making scrambled eggs and sausage cookies. “I hadn’t had a hot meal in two days, and I knew they’d be open,” said Nicole Gainey, 22, a secretary at a truck repair company who came there for breakfast.

The golden age of the diner

The WH is best known in the United States as a stopover for retirees heading south because it was in one of them that the singer Kid Rock was involved in a fight after a concert in 2007. The yellow and black sign hasn’t changed in forty years, and the laminated map with color photos deliberately evokes the golden age of the roadside diner.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the company began to really embrace this post-disaster business strategy. Seven of its restaurants were destroyed, and about 100 others had to close, but the influx of customers overwhelmed those that reopened quickly.

WH decided to strengthen its crisis management mechanisms. It developed a disaster recovery manual, stocked up on portable generators, purchased a mobile command center, and distributed key chains with emergency numbers to employees.

In a recent study, Panos Kouvelis, a professor at the Washington University School of Business in St. Louis, Missouri, ranked WH among the top four disaster-response companies, along with Wal-Mart supermarkets and the two home improvement chains, Home Depot and Lowe’s. Waffle House restaurant managers say sales can double or even triple in the wake of a hurricane.

The company, which reportedly has annual sales of more than $600 million [433 million euros], needs to disclose information about the costs and benefits of this strategy, mainly aimed at strengthening its image and building customer loyalty.

“If you include in the calculation all the resources we deploy, the equipment we rent, the stockpiles of products we buy, their storage, you understand right away that we are not doing it for sales,” explains Pat Warner, who is part of the crisis management team.

Is self-service also possible?

One man had to make his breakfast at a restaurant because the employees were asleep. Alex Bowen, 36, from South Carolina, said he had a couple of drinks with friends and decided to stop by the Waffle House at 3 a.m.

He stood at the register for 10 minutes and realized they weren’t serving him. Then he decided to make his meat and cheese sandwich. Bowen went behind the counter and noticed one of the cooks sound asleep. He didn’t wake him, and there were no other customers at the time.

After cooking, Bowen cleaned up, took selfies in the establishment’s kitchen, and went home. He returned later that day and paid for the sandwich.

After Bowen’s story broke on social media, the manager of a local Waffle House thanked him for exposing his shortcomings and offered to work as a “mystery shopper.”

The Waffle House promised to take the necessary disciplinary action and noted that rules prohibit customers from going behind the counter, but Bowen’s case is an exception.

Waffles: History and Facts

The word “waffle” comes from the German word “waffel,” which means “honeycomb” or “cell.” It is easy to guess that this name came from the resemblance of the sweet to a bee honeycomb.

A written historical source from the 13th century indicates that waffles were invented by Germans. By the XV-XVI centuries in Europe, this dessert was available only to the upper classes and royal families. For disclosure of recipes for waffles in those days, people were terrible punishment, up to the death penalty. A few centuries later, the hot and fragrant sweets began to be sold in the streets, where every customer could see how and with what they were made.

Johann Strauss, Frederic Chopin, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Alfred Nobel, and Sigmund Freud were true fans of sweet pastries.

The real waffle boom began when New Yorker Cornelius Swarthout patented his invention, the first-ever waffle iron pan, on August 24, 1869. It consisted of two iron pieces joined together. To make dessert, these pieces had to be heated over the coals and flipped over. Since that day, there has been a holiday in America called Waffle Day.

On this day, people go to cafes and restaurants and enjoy dessert with all kinds of fillings: syrup, honey, condensed milk, or jam. Many people prefer to stay at home, invite guests and treat them to homemade pastries.

Interesting facts

  • The cellular surface on waffle plates is not a confectioners’ whim at all. This relief on the pastry holds the filling in place, preventing it from spreading.
  • In 1904, Ernest Harvey, a Syrian immigrant ice cream vendor, was selling waffles at the St. Louis World’s Fair. When the ice cream vendor next door ran out of utensils, Ernest Hamvi offered to use his waffle cones as cups. A few years later, Humvee formed the first major dessert company, which started its industrial production.
  • In the 1970s, American track and field coach Bill Bowerman developed a grooved sole for sneakers that significantly reduced weight and increased pushing power. He was inspired by the cells on waffles.

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