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A brief history of the beloved 24-hour Southern diner icon
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No 24-hour diner chain inspires quite the same cult following as Waffle House. Since its founding in Atlanta some 60 years ago, the restaurant has been elevated to cultural touchstone, now sprawling across 25 U.S. states with more than 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 — call it the Waffle House je ne sais quoi.
The first Waffle House made its debut in 1955 in 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 were neighbors, started the chain: “He said, ‘You build a restaurant and I’ll show you how to run it.’” They named it Waffle House because waffles were the most profitable menu item (and therefore, what they most wanted customers to order).
The company began franchising in 1960 and in the beginning grew slowly, but expansion picked up in the ’70s and ’80s. Its empire now spans across a full half of the 50 continental states, and though it’s concentrated in the South, Waffle Houses can be found as far north as Ohio and as far west as Arizona.
Waffle House remains a privately held company today — Rogers’s son, Joe Rogers Jr., is now the chairman — and does not disclose annual sales figures, but in 2005 the company claimed that it uses two percent of all eggs produced in the U.S.
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