This Isn’t a Waffle House, It’s a Waffle Home

May 17, 2024  
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In 2007, my parents took me to a Waffle House for the first time. Of course, I don’t remember much (in fact, I’m unsure if that’s even the correct year). I certainly can’t remember the exact Waffle Hous menu. But three things stick out to me from that memory: The old-fashioned jukebox. The chocolate chip waffles. And not being able to see over the counter.

Those chocolate chip waffles were some of the best waffles I ever had. However, that could be the rosy retrospection. It’s easy to remember it fondly between the good music, good people, and good food. So, let’s look even further back at Waffle House history.

Waffle House Menu from 1955. “$21.75 would have bought everything on the menu.”, Facebook.

Good Food, Good People

Waffle House was the creation of friends Joe Rogers Sr. and Tom Forkner back in the 1950s. Their goal was to create a restaurant that was more like a home—a welcoming space to make human connections across a diner counter. “We aren’t in the food business. We’re in the people business.” Joe Rogers, Sr. often said.

“We aren’t in the food business. We’re in the people business.” Joe Rogers

However, before it was the Waffle House, it was the Toddle House. Joe Rogers Sr. was a manager of one of the local Toddle House diners while Tom Forkner was a realtor for Avondale Estates. He sought to use his experience for a more lucrative business model while providing opportunities for his associates. After saving up $4,000, the first restaurant opened on Labor Day in 1955. Over the next few years, more opened in strip malls and office complexes. But the first stand-alone Waffle House wouldn’t be open until #6 in 1961.

Former WWII counterintelligence agent and founder, Tom Forkner, The DeKalb History Center.

Former WWII flight instructor and founder, Joe Rogers, Sr. The DeKalb History Center.

The menu is the same across locations, serving their classic hash browns, waffles, and Texas Melts. Patrons found comfort in the familiarity across establishments. Since then, they have grown to over 1,800 restaurants across the Midwestern and Southern United States.

Waffle House Menu from 2004, Twitter.

The Waffle House Index (WHI)

The bright yellow sign has been a beacon in the darkness for decades. In fact, it’s looked to in times of crisis. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) looks to that sign. The name Waffle House Index was coined by FEMA head Craig Fugate. “It’s a shorthand for us to get in there and quickly get a snapshot. Is the Waffle House open? Everything normal there?” Fugate said in a 2012 New York Times article. The restaurant chain is considered one of the top 4 corporations in disaster response along with Home Depot, Walmart. Their philosophy is to get open as quickly as possible, even opening 24 hours after a major natural disaster. Associates have even seen sales double or triple after a storm.

“It’s a shorthand for us to get in there and quickly get a snapshot. Is the Waffle House open? Everything normal there?” Craig Fugate

Furthermore, a FEMA blog post states, “If a Waffle House can serve a full menu, they’ve likely got power (or are running on a generator). A limited menu means an area may not have running water or electricity, but there’s gas for the stove to make bacon, eggs, and coffee: exactly what hungry, weary people need.”.

The chain’s reliability goes beyond the Waffle House Menu. With the latest news of Hurricane Idalia approaching, we’ll soon see how local Waffle House locations will become a haven for those effected by the storm.

Hospitality is on the Menu

Back to the present, my dad and I went back to see how the House had changed since 2007. Totally wasn’t an excuse to go get breakfast for lunch. I was purely doing thorough research. Totally.

We DO NOT DISCRIMINATE against Customers or Associates based on race, color, religion, age, gender, national origin, pregnancy, disability, military service or other protected status – House Rule #7

Before walking in, they have the House Rules posted in the window. After a quick read, we sit by the windows in a booth. The atmosphere was reminiscent of cooking lunch at my own house. Casual conversation, the sounds of the kitchen filling the space. Not a single menu item has changed after 68 years, the only change being the addition of the Hashbrown Bowls. Our waitress was awesome, shout out to her! The friendliness of a Waffle House employee is different from, say, an IHOP employee. It’s a casual amicability that makes you feel like a regular, even if it’s your first time at the restaurant.

Breakfast Waffle House Menu.


Current Waffle House Menu, photos by the author.

My Order

  • Hashbrowns, smothered with grilled onion and topped with Bert’s chili
  • Classic Waffle topped with chocolate chips, butter, and syrup
  • Sweet Iced Tea

Chocolate Chip Waffle.

Chocolate Chip Waffle.

My Dad’s Order

  • Texas Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Melt (bacon substituted for city ham)
  • Hashbrowns
  • Ice Water

Texas Bacon Egg and Cheese melt with hashbrowns and two pickle chips.

Next time I go, I’ll definitely get the classic hashbrowns smothered, covered, and chunked with a side of cheese grits. Plus I made a promise to a waitress to come back to show her the article I wrote. And I have a coupon for a free waffle.

Waffles by the Numbers

According to Beyond the Menu, each year they serve:

  • 85 million strips of bacon
  • 153 million hashbrown orders
  • 124 million waffles
  • 58 million cups of coffee
  • 272 million eggs
  • 10 million chicken breasts

Since 1955 they have dished up,

  • 4,265,704,737 eggs
  • 2,409,634,737 hashbrown orders
  • 1,942,903,684 waffles
  • 1,335,067,895 bacon strips
  • 1,259,088,421 orders of grits
  • 911,753,684 cups of coffee
  • 162,813,158 chicken breasts

Oh, and can’t forget the Official Waffle House Records (Yes, they do have an official song about raisin toast.)

Want to check my sources or want to learn more?

Sources and Stuff

Learn More

Dekalb County Waffle House Museum (which happens to be close to Avondale Estates!)

Waffle House Foundation

Sources

Brock, Sean. “Charleston chef Sean Brock decodes Waffle House.” Explore Parts Unknown, 5 April 2017, https://explorepartsunknown.com/charleston/decoding-waffle-house/. Accessed 22 August 2023.

Bourdain, Anthony. Sean Brock And Anthony Bourdain Eat At The Waffle House. CNN, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bct8stbZafI. Accessed 29 Aug. 2023.

https://www.zeropointzero.com

Howard, Marissa. “Vintage Waffle House, History and Locations.” DeKalb History Center, 6 December 2022, https://dekalbhistory.org/blog-posts/waffle-house-history-a-dekalb-original/. Accessed 22 August 2023.

Sedghi, Sarra. “Smothered Covered and Chunked The History of…” Culture Trip, 17 March 2020, https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/articles/smothered-covered-and-chunked-the-history-of-waffle-house/. Accessed 22 August 2023.

Waffle House. “Beyond The Menu.” Waffle House, https://www.wafflehouse.com/beyond-the-menu/. Accessed 28 August 2023.

Additional Food for Thought

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Morgan Jensen

Morgan Jensen

About the Author

Morgan Jensen is a writer and artist based in the Central US. When she isn't collecting shiny rocks, she can be found organizing data into pretty charts for Breach Bang Clear. Follow her misadventures by visiting her website or check out her Artstation.

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