Saturday, February 11, 2012

The original Waffle House restaurant

When we moved to Decatur, Georgia in 1973, we noticed the little restaurants with yellow signs saying “Waffle House.” In France waffles are for dessert – they are served with powdered sugar, or whipped cream, or covered with fruits, or sprinkled with cinnamon or rum or another liquor. Below is the usual waffles served in France. I used the photo from the French family cooking site Super Antoinette.French waffles (gaufres au sucre)

French waffles (gaufres au sucre) courtesy Super Antoinette, Cuisine Familiale

Back then I thought that the Waffle House restaurant was a “dessert” restaurant serving waffles and crepes. Once inside though I saw that they served waffles as a breakfast item and offered many other items on their menu. Since that time we have been to numerous Waffle House restaurants as they are everywhere in Georgia. In a 6 mile radius (10 kms) around my home I can think of seven of these restaurants. Early last month, on Saturday 7 January 2012 to be exact, as I was reading the Saturday Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper I happened to read a small article on the original Waffle House restaurant. Here is the clipping below.

Click on picture to enlarge to read clipping

It announced that until 3 pm that day the original Waffle House restaurant in Decatur, GA, would be open for a rare public tour. That day we had planned to drive to Decatur to the Farmer’s Market so we decided to stop at the museum first. Below is the original restaurant, established in 1955 in Avondale Estates a suburb of Atlanta, which is a museum now showing the restaurant as it was then. On the left is a small room with memorabilia.

Many people had come to visit the museum. We were greeted by a large poster, a replica of the Welcome sign, where people could place their heads to be photographed. We did.

There were panels on the wall explaining the origins of the Waffle House, photos of the first restaurant in 1955 and of the two founders as they looked then and now.

We were allowed to go behind the counter where props had been set like steaks on the grill, fried eggs, etc. Pictures were authorized and I took many.

While my husband was reading the original Waffle House menu

Click on collage to enlarge, then click on each picture to enlarge more

I snapped the little picture frames showing the original prices. We were given a sample menu and a couple of magazine clippings with the history and explanations on the running of the restaurants.

Then we walked into the back room where the pies were made and the extra food kept.

There were huge bags of sugar and flour and a calendar opened to September 1955.

After touring the restaurant we walked to the room next door which houses memorabilia. As we entered a tour guide greeted us. She stood in front of a life size photo of the two founders. This photo is set behind a replica of an original counter with authentic seats. Next to it is a showcase with many advertizing buttons.

The tour guide explained how Waffle House was started in 1955. Joe Rogers, Sr. and Tom Forkner, friends and neighbors in their late thirties, decided to partner in a 24-hour restaurant business to be open 365 days a year. They decided to use waffles for their restaurant as it was less expensive and they wished their restaurant to be a warm, friendly place – a family type restaurant, a home away from home. They opened the restaurant on Labor Day 1955 (5 September 1955.) Now, 57 years later, they are still partners and involved in the business. The museum is lined with early photographs.

Some old and new Waffle House items are also displayed such as the first printing calculator they used, china, menus and uniforms.

There are advertizing items and a video.

A skillet recovered after Hurricane Katrina hit Biloxi, Mississippi, on 29 August 2005 at 6:10 am is on display.

When we left we were offered a coupon for a free waffle at any of the restaurant as well as a small button. I choose the Waffle House Princess button for my daughter Céline who missed Waffle House so much while living in California. I even bought her a Waffle House coffee cup a couple of years ago as a Christmas present.

Céline is moving back South now and her new position will have her travel into many Southern states. She will always find a Waffle House near as there are now more than 1600 Waffle House restaurants in twenty-five states, mostly in the South, above all in Georgia. There are at least 455 Waffle Houses in Georgia and about 200 in Metro Atlanta. We went to three Waffle House restaurants last week and I took more pictures. We had breakfast at one of them where we had waffles, of course. There were business men having breakfast as well as a young patron.

A couple of days later we went to another Waffle House for lunch. My husband had a hamburger and I had a lettuce, bacon and tomato sandwich. I finished with a cup of coffee. In the collage below you can see the jukebox at the top of the bottom right hand side photo. Many songs have been written featuring the Waffle House restaurants.

With my coffee I had a small slice of pecan pie as I was planning to bake a pecan pie soon. The waitress was especially pleasant. She warmed up the slice and added a tiny bit of butter. She heard my accent and asked if I spoke French. She told me her mother came from the Caribbean and spoke fluent French.

On the little leaflets given to me at the Waffle House Museum I read that the founders always emphasized customer service. They have promoted a people-oriented corporate strategy. They say “We are not in the food business… We are in the People business.” This shows because I have never met an unfriendly Waffle House waitress. It is good for their business too. These are some numbers: since 1955 they have served 877,388,027 waffles, 1,289,801,887 cups of coffee, 2,501,866,574 eggs and so on. They add that “If you poured all of the cups of Coffee that Waffle House serves in one year, it would be enough to fill nearly 8 Olympic swimming pools!” and another quote “If you could stack all of the Sausage Patties that Waffle House serves in one day on top of each other, it would be nearly twice the size of the World's Tallest Building, Burj Khalifa in Dubai or four times the size of the Empire State Building.” That certainly is impressive! Below is a poster showing all the numbers as of 2005.

The waitress in the last Waffle House we visited gave us a little card offering a special romantic reservation-only Valentine Dinner with white tablecloths, candle light and special 5 start service. That sounds interesting….The wording on the card is a play on their trademark sentence they use for serving hash brown potatoes which can be served ““Scattered, Smothered and Covered.

I think most of the pictures I took of this Southern icon are in this post, along with the notes I took after listening to the tour guide and reading all the leaflets. Since this last picture is pink and relating to Valentine’s Day I’ll attach a picture I took a couple of days ago of flowering trees nearby. It has been so mild that there are many buds but unfortunately the Weather Service is announcing very cold nights in the 20s F (-6 C) and most of these buds will suffer.


Cloudia said...

oh so good!
and the final picture a wonderful dessert!

stay warm, friend-

Warm Aloha from Waikiki
Comfort Spiral

> < } } ( ° >

OldLady Of The Hills said...

What a terrific success story---from a little special idea, an industry grew!! AMAZING! And also amazing that the two Original partners are STILL alive and active in the business....!
This was a delightful post, my dear....And as always, filled with fascinating details and great pictures!

Anonymous said...

*** Bonjour Vagabonde ! Merci pour ces belles photos et découvertes pour moi !!!!! Encore merci pour ce post et GROS BISOUS !!! ***

bayou said...

Fabulous, everything! I envy Céline who will be able to travel in the South and I envy you for the mild weather... we had minus 19°C last night, j'ai eu assez! Poor wildlife. But great waffels! In South of France, they used to sell gaufres à la Chantilly, all with that specific accent ;-).

Jenny Woolf said...

Beautiful tree in the last picture! I saw Waffle House restaurants when I was in the SOuth but never went inside one as I can take-or-leave waffles, so much depends on what they put in the batter, and some have too much flavouring.

I'd visit one which was 1950s, though, whatever the waffles tasted like -I wonder why they don't have this museum actually operating, as I'm sure it would be a tourist draw. Still your pictures were very cool and very interesting.

Perpetua said...

Such an enjoyable and fascinating post! I've only visited the US once. on a weekend trip with our son, and I so enjoyed visiting a diner for a real American breakfast, but with pancakes, not waffles.

DJan said...

I always learn so much in each post you make. I would never have guessed the origin of the Waffle House, and now I know everything about the restaurant! Thanks, VB, for continuing my education on just about everything. :-)

Fennie said...

I have learned about Waffles and Waffle Houses and being in business for 57 years. But however do they count all those numbers? They must be estimates, surely? Yet they are big numbers. All those eggs, all those chickens. All that Fanta and Coke and Coffee. But a Valentine dinner - in a Waffle House? I think I'd be with John McEnroe on that one, were I to be invited.

Roger Gauthier said...

Je suis un terrible ignorant. J'ai appris considérablement en lisant ce message fort bien illustré. Non mais quel travail titanesque tu abats dans tes messages !

Arlene C said...

I've only been to the Waffle House a couple of times, but I remember how much we loved it! Wonderful & informative post!

Sally Wessely said...

You did your homework for this post! This was quite fascinating.

Shammickite said...

Bonjour Mme. Vagabonde!
I have often seen the signs above the Waffle House restaurants on my trips to Florida, but I've never been in one, but now you have whetted my appetite and I think I may have to stop and check one out!

Rosaria Williams said...

I had no idea of how important waffles are to the southern region of the U.S. Glad also to hear that your daughter will return to live closer to you. You must be elated.

Dee Ready said...

I've never been to a Waffle House but you certainly made them, their food, their ambience, and their owners appealing. I'm wondering if the pecan pie was too sweet for your taste buds.


Jojo said...

That sounds like a fun tour! Our family celebrates Christmas Eve at Waffle House every year. For us the holidays wouldn't be the same without it.

Frances said...

Vagabonde, I love this culinary history tour. Waffle House! Those two southern gentlemen certainly were on to a very good idea, providing folks with a friendly, familiar sort of place that would allow them an inexpensive meal away from home.

Thence evolved McDonald's?

That beautiful flowering tree photo at the close of your post reminds me to tell you that our strange springtime weather preview up here in NYC has been overtaken by real winter weather this weekend.

Today has been very windy with temps around freezing, and big, floppy snow flakes were falling a little while ago.

Hoping that the Brooklyn Botanic Garden cherry blossoms will still put on their show in a few months.

(Also, I must mention that I like the sound and look of your pecan pie recipe...not quite the Karo syrup sweet classic, but much more delicious, I bet.)


CrazyCris said...

Sounds like a great place to stop for a bite, I'll have to keep that in mind when I'm next in the southern US! I too would have mostly considered waffles just a dessert thing (maybe breakfast, but for that I prefer pancakes or french toast).

Ils ont l'air bons tes gauffres de Bruxelles dans la première photo, mais personellement je préfère les gauffres de Liège! Surtout s'ils sont à la canelle et tout chauds! miam!!! ;o)

And that museum looks fascinating! :o)

Miss_Yves said...

De beaux contrastes, en photos, entre l'ancien (1955) et le moderne.

Je n'avais jamais entendu parler de cette chaîne de restaurants

Ginnie said...

You have no idea how much this icon is part of my psyche, Vagabonde. HA! And my kids' and g'son's, too! We took Nicholas to WH every time he spent the night with us. He learned his numbers and letters at the jukebox. Now when we stay at the rental cabin in the No. GA mtns. we always stop at WH on our way home for breakfast. That means it's now part of Astrid's psyche, too. :)

One of the things I most love about this chain is that they don't make their restaurants any bigger. They just build another one nearby. You can almost walk to one anywhere you live in the Atlanta area!

I love that you had the chance to see the first one!

snowwhite said...

I enjoyed your blog very much. My favorite is a plain waffle with maple syrup. If there were waffle in front of me, it would be hard for me to resist this sweet temptation and I would eat all. There is no Waffle House restaurant in Japan as far as I know. What a pity!
I quote “their restaurant to be a warm, friendly place – a family type restaurant, a home away from home.” Don’t you think it is a place like an oasis in a city?
The flowery trees look like beautiful pink clouds.

Susie Swanson said...

This is a very enjoyable post and so yummy..I love waffles..hope you have a nice evening..Susie

Charles said...

Thanks for posting all the good ol' pics on the 1955 Waffle House; and writing about it. I love their pecan waffle with just butter on it. When traveling, I try to stop at one for breakfast. I have to drive about 40 miles to the closet one to me. Enjoy.

Pat said...

Thank you for that interesting tour and please may I have a gaufres au sucre?
The flowering trees were a perfect ending.

Sheila said...

What an interesting post! I enjoy my waffles with maple syrup and think of them a sweet item. Though sometimes we have them for breakfast with syrup and crispy Canadian bacon. Those young men sure started a good thing and it's nice to see they are still around to enjoy it.

Mandy Southgate said...

You mean its not a dessert place?? I never knew that, I thought that's what waffle houses were. I just love all of the retro utensils, appliances, and ingredients.

Unknown said...

I love waffles and this is a very informative hungry already :)

Jeanie said...

I'm glad you wrote this post -- Every year when we go south, I want to stop at Waffle House and Rick wants to keep going. Since it's such a long way, I always give in. But I've always wanted to try one! Well, at least now I have a sneak peek!

What gorgeous trees -- I hope the weather doesn't hurt them.

Elaine said...

How fortunate that you saw the article in the paper and were able to visit the museum. It looks like a fascinating tour and a journey back in time. We have spent very little time in the South, but now I know to keep a lookout for a Waffle House when we do go.

Denise Covey said...

Hello Vagabonde. This is wonderful - photos and text. Waffle House must be particularly American I think. Never heard of it but it certainly sounds intriguing. Aussies aren't great waffle eaters, but French crepes are welcomed anytime.


Jenn Jilks said...

What a fun tour! I love the old photos- well, photos of old stuff. I was looking for a photo of an old calculator for a post, you have one!
This is a lovely tour!

Cheers from Cottage Country!

claude said...

Excellent post, comme d'habitude, Vagabonde !
J'aime bien les gaufres, au sucre glace ou à la chantilly. Mon Chéri, lui, ce serait avec du nutella.
Mon appareil à croque-monsieurs, fait aussi gaufrier, mais je trouve qu'elle ne sont pas assez épaisses et un peu moles.
Sauf erreur de ma part, il y a des crêperies en France mais je ne pense qu'il y ait des maison spécialisées en gaufres.
Appétissant comme pot !

TorAa said...

Very interesting about Waffles.Beautiful Photos and great text.
They are very popular in Norwa as well - vaffler. We use to have butter and jam on them besides cream and/or Sour Cream.

PS. Last Photo is what we here are looking forward too.

My name is Riet said...

WE have been to FLorida several times and there we always had wafles for breakfast. So delicious. When I see this I get hoesick ena want to go back again. LOL

Madelief said...

Dear Vagabond,

Thank you for your kind comment on my blog. I enjoyed it very much. Your trip to the waffle house sounds interesting. My grandfather used to bake waffles like the ones on the photo. They look absolutely delicious!

Lieve groet Madelief x

Unknown said...

Waffles are so tasty and the last photo of spring is simply delightful!

stardust said...

Thank you for this comprehensive information about Waffle House. I like waffles and I can’t resist stopping by to buy some when I walk in Kobe, or Osaka, as the sweet fragrance fills the air around. McDonald, Starbucks, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Pizza Huts are popular in Japan, but I’m not sure if there is Waffle House in Japan. When I find one, I’d like to enter remembering this post.


Ruth said...

What a thorough post! We can always count on these when we travel south, when it's nice to go out for breakfast and enjoy a good one. We have a story from one, I think it was in Pennsylvania (do they have them there?), and the waitress's accent was such that when she asked us "taste or biscuits?" we just could not understand, and we asked her to repeat and repeat. Finally we realized she was saying "toast or biscuits?" but in PA it sounds like "taste."

Vagabonde said...

To the newcomers to my blog – I welcome you and hope you will be back.

I would now like to thank all my friends for their thoughtful comments and for having taken the time to read my post. It is always a pleasure to read your remarks. Thank you again.

Vicki Lane said...

I haven't been to a Waffle House in years -- what a fascinating post about a Southern icon!

Sandy said...

Wow the original Waffle House! That's a find. =) And I LOVE the last photo- beautiful! =)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...