There is something intrinsically beautiful about the Waffle House. Every building is identical, the decor and layout don’t change, and the meal tastes the same every single time.
Called by many a “Southern Cultural Phenomenon,” the Waffle House is where you go to hear yourself called “Darlin’” and “Sugar.” Where regular customers aren't allowed to leave without hugging all of the waitresses goodbye. If you're road tripping, it's always just off an exit, inviting you in for a warm meal, no matter the time of day.
It’s been this way since Labor Day 1955, when the first Waffle House restaurant opened its doors in Avondale Estates, an Atlanta suburb, with no plans to build another unit. Seventeen-hundred plus restaurants later, customer loyalty, friendly service, and menu favorites including Bert’s Chili and Alice’s Iced Tea, keep a steady stream of regular and new customers looking for that friendly, yellow Scrabble-tile sign.
The mission of the Waffle House is "...to deliver a unique experience to our customers through delivering great food, friendly, attentive service, excellent price and a welcoming presence." That's part of the beauty. It's a modern day corner pub where folks go to sober up after a night of revelry. People from all walks of life go to the Waffle House looking to feed bellies, but more often or not, their spirit is filled. I don't know if it's the smell of the coffee brewing, the glistening syrup floating in the crevices of the pecan waffles, or the sizzle of the hash browns as they are scattered, covered, smothered, and chunked on the grill.
Maybe it's the waitresses lining up to hug their regulars, cajoling them to stay and have one more pot of coffee. Everyone talks and laughs, yet the people at Waffle House also recognize that sometimes you need to be alone with your cup of coffee and think. No matter what you need today, the Waffle House is there for you, comforting you in the way that only a hot meal and people who have joined together in the common act of eating can offer. It's a temporary family, always changing, but when you're sitting in your booth, you realize this is exactly what you needed.
But Waffle House isn’t just for everyday folks. One of the Carolina Panthers reportedly called Waffle House an “advantage” for his team. James Beard Award winner Sean Brock took Anthony Bourdain to visit while the TV personality was covering Charleston for his show Parts Unknown. In fact, on their Pinterest board, the Waffle House maintains a list of celebrities who have dined in the restaurants.
Every day of the year, 24 hours a day, the lights stay on at the Waffle House. That’s something the company prepares for when Mother Nature comes knocking at their door. FEMA even relies on the Waffle House as an indicator of damaging storms. The “Waffle House Index” isn’t scientific, but if the Waffle House is closed it’s an indicator of how things are in different areas. When the Waffle House is fully operational, that's a green condition; when it's operating with a limited menu, that's yellow. Red means the restaurant’s closed.
Now that it’s hurricane season, my local Waffle House is green, but prepared for yellow -- that would mean no bacon (takes up too much grill space) and no waffles (uses too much energy when operating on a backup power source). But no matter what, the friendly faces at the Waffle House will be there cooking meals, keeping the community fed, and giving everyone who walks in the door service with a smile.
Waffle House is a brightly-lit beacon of all things cooked on a well-seasoned griddle. It doesn't matter what your socioeconomic status is, nor the color of your skin, or how inebriated you are, or aren’t; the Waffle House is where you go to find more than griddle cooked food and a bottomless coffee cup, it’s where you go to find what makes the South and Waffle House beautiful – the people inside.
Lisa M. Frame is a writer and social media manager who lives in Belmont, NC. She works for Atlanta-based Everywhere Agency and is currently working on her first novel. Visit her at www.adailypinch.com.