No 24-hour diner chain inspires quite the same cult following as Waffle House. Since its founding in Atlanta some 60 years back, the restaurant has been elevated to cultural touchstone, now sprawling across 25 U.S. states with over 2,000 locations. Slinging humble breakfast fare around the clock, Waffle House inspires deep and unyielding loyalty in diners like few restaurant chains (except maybe Whataburger) can. Is it the cheap prices? The no-frills atmosphere? Those illustrious hash browns that somehow taste better when you’re intoxicated? The waitresses that inevitably call you “honey”? Likely some combination of all of the above, plus a little bit of that inexplicable Southern diner magic – refer to it as the Waffle House je ne sais quoi.
The chain has inspired numerous books, including a first-person narrative from a former line cook titled As the Waffle Burns as well as one by way of a pastor called – naturally – The Gospel According to Waffle House. The chain, which states to have sold its billionth waffle sometime in 2015, recently saw both its founders, Tom Forkner and Joe Rogers Sr., die in just 2 months of merely one another. Here now, a look back in the legend, and for fans near and far, all you need to know about Waffle House.
The Beginning – The initial Waffle House made its debut in 1955 within the Atlanta suburb of Avondale Estates. The vision: combine fast food, available 24 hours a day, with table service. Co-founder Forkner once explained how he and Rogers, who have been neighbors, started the chain: “He said, ‘You develop a restaurant and I’ll show you how to run it.’” They named it Waffle House because waffles were by far the most profitable menu item (and for that reason, whatever they most wanted customers to buy).
The initial Waffle Property is now a museum. The business began franchising in 1960 and initially grew slowly, but expansion picked up inside the ’70s and ’80s. Its empire now spans across an entire half of the 50 continental states, and though it’s concentrated in the South, Waffle Houses are available as far north as Ohio so when far west as Arizona. Waffle House remains a privately owned company today – Rogers’s son, Joe Rogers Jr., is currently the chairman – and fails to disclose annual sales figures, however in 2005 the business claimed it uses two percent of eggs manufactured in the U.S.
The Secret Waffle House Language. Eating at Waffle House for the first time requires becoming versed in a new vernacular – exactly what the hell does “scattered, smothered, and covered” mean? True Waffle House devotees get their hash brown orders committed to memory, but also for all others, the menu translates each esoteric term: “Scattered” describes spreading the hash browns out across the grill so that they get crispy all around – otherwise, they’re cooked within a steel ring – and is among the mostly commonly heard terms thrown around at WH; many also order them “well-done.” Another topping options are smothered (sautéed onions), covered (melted American cheese), chunked (pieces of ham), diced (tomatoes), peppered (jalapeños), capped (grilled mushrooms), topped (chili), or country (smothered in sausage gravy). Diners can also just say to hell with it and order them “all just how.”
Hash browns scattered, smothered, and covered. Like most every other diner, orders at Waffle House are susceptible to plenty of customization, from the various egg preparations (over easy, scrambled, et al) to the people signature hash browns. To make certain order accuracy and kitchen efficiency, Waffle House staff have their own own highly esoteric visual coding system. By marking plates with butter pats, mini tubs of grape jelly, and other condiments such as mayo packets and pickles in various, highly specific arrangements, servers can communicate to cooks what food should be ready for each plate. For instance, to indicate a purchase of scrambled eggs with wheat toast, a tub of jelly is placed on the larger oval plate upside down at the six o’clock position. (Good luck memorizing this technique except if you actually work there; everyone else will simply need to look up with awe.)
Famous People Love Waffle House. Though Waffle Home is prized as a refuge for your common people, lots of celebrities also have pledged their allegiance. Prominently located just off busy interstates, Waffle House has played host to numerous traveling musicians and earned itself a lot of references: Within the track “Welcome to Atlanta,” Jermaine Dupri raps, “After jpgpiy party it’s the Waffle House/If you happen to been here do you know what I’m talkin’ about.” A minumum of one rap music video continues to be filmed in a Waffle House parking lot, and nineties sensation/current butt of endless jokes Hootie and also the Blowfish possess a cover album titled “Scattered, Smothered, and Covered.” Oddly enough, WH also has its own record label, breakfast-themed cuts (think “Make Mine With Cheese” and “There’s Raisins within my Toast”) from which can be heard playing on the jukeboxes that occupy each location.