With over 1600 locations in 25 states, Waffle House has become an iconic highway refuge for weary travelers, a late night/early morning retreat for party-goers on a budget and an oasis for anyone with a hankerin’ for good food fast. The first location was opened on Labor Day in 1955 by friends Joe Rodgers and Tom Forkner just outside Atlanta. Basing the concept on (and even stole a few recipes and cooking styles from) a competing local chain called Toddle House where Rodgers actually worked. When Rodgers was denied in his bid to buy into Toddle House, he quit and became operations manager for Waffle House, which had only three locations.
They opened one more company restaurant before offering the concept as a franchise which further grew the restaurant to 27 by the late 1960s. When Joe Rodgers son Joe returned from his graduate studies at Harvard – where he did his senior thesis on Waffle House growth strategies – he immediately utilized his expansion plan to grow the company tremendously, and the company has been growing ever since. Today, Waffle House has restaurants in the south and north east, as far north as Pennsylvania/Ohio and as far west as Arizona.
In 2007, the company purchased the site of the original Waffle House and opened the Waffle House museum, which has two store fronts – the first has been fully restored using the original blueprints as a replica of the first-ever Waffle House location. Inside you are guided by recorded overviews past a replica counter and grill, into the back room where we discovered that, originally, Waffle House made everything from scratch except for condiments and Coca-Cola. Today, the sheer demand of 1600 locations make this a little harder – they claim to use 2% of the eggs sold to the food service industry – but they still try to use the freshest ingredients possible.
Next door, visitors are treated to a more traditional museum featuring memorabilia throughout Waffle House history from one of the company’s first accounting ledgers to books, pins, uniforms and pictures.
We were lucky enough to meet two members of the Waffle House family. One worked in the marketing department and was actually a member of the Rodger’s family, the second just completed the bar exam (congrats) and her father went from fry cook to an executive for the company. They were very welcoming and had wonderful perspectives on the inner workings and history of the company.
For just visiting, we received a coupon for a free waffle (with the purchase of a waffle). So we popped down the street to Waffle House #1000 for lunch. We highly recommend the waffles, but you HAVE to have hash browns scattered, smothered, covered, diced, peppered and topped. Give it a try! And, if you’re adventurous, and haven’t recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure, high blood sugar, cardiovascular or vascular disease, try the hashbrowns “All the Way.” We can’t officially endorse the heart attack on a plate!