It's Not a Waffle House, It's a Waffle Home
What was once a small Georgia restaurant has quickly spread into a roadside empire, lining small-town highways throughout the South – and across the nation – with their distinct yellow signs. It is the greatest iteration of the classic American diner: honest, brazen and warm. And they have never once served a pancake. Welcome to a true Southern tradition: the Waffle House.
As the late Anthony Bourdain once said, “Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans … are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food.” I couldn’t agree more. Thirteen years after he wrote those lines in his world-famous book “Kitchen Confidential,” Anthony Bourdain took a trip to the Waffle House outside of Charleston on his CNN television show “Parts Unknown”; he went alongside the celebrated Southern restaurateur Sean Brock, and inside they explored an incredible Georgia institution with a cult-like following. So how did it all begin?
Joe Rogers, Sr. and Tom Forkner met as neighbors in Avondale Estates, Georgia, a quiet hamlet beside Decatur, when Tom sold Joe a house in 1949. They would be friends and ultimately business partners ever since. In 1955 these two Southerners opened the first ever Waffle House; now they have over 2,100 locations. They used the colors yellow and black to mimic the high visibility of a school bus, and created an open “shoebox” store design to facilitate a grill-to-counter customer service that’s analogous with Southern hospitality.
I spoke with Senior Vice President Chris Heithaus at Waffle House #881, sitting on I-95 just south of the Hostess City. He runs 87 locations throughout the Lowcountry in his three areas: the Charleston market, the Savannah market, which includes Brunswick, and the coastal North Carolina market including Myrtle Beach, Wilmington and Jacksonville. Mr. Heithaus has worked at Waffle House for 15 years. His most memorable moment: when he saw the owner, president and CEO of Waffle House all come in to work the third shift at 2:00 a.m. on New Year’s eve. “It’s the busiest night of the year,” he said, “It was really that moment where I knew I could do this for a career.” His second most memorable moment? When he watched Steven Colbert film “The Late Show” inside a Charleston Waffle House.