The Ways of Waffle House
It's the bitter Southerner podcasts from Georgia Public Broadcasting in the magazine. I added the bitter southerner. Welcome to episode five of our second season. I'm Chuck Reese and today we take you to a place that is familiar to every southerner the waffle house come on. Let's go to my place to services past about the waffle house when it comes to the best the end I in every southerner has their waffle house memory Mesnier from late nights and they might be blurry in the brain because waffle house is after all a place where the night outings go before they crawl in bed and hide from the Sun Many other of our waffle house memories from childhood because every southern kid will be taken to waffle house at some point. It took about five seconds for us to see this phenomenon. One more time on the day we walked into waffle house stored number one thousand in Avondale estates Georgia with a bag. Full of microphones. You answer some questions about the waffle house. This is Samantha. Nyack and her daughter. Well she is only four so she's been coming for four years and I've been coming for as long as I have memories. Sam Lives around the corner from the very first waffle house. It's now museum and it's just down the block from the store that we're in today. She says coming here brings back memories from when she was a kid our waitress was always. Trina and one time she let me go behind the counter and work the brittle and make my own egg and cheese sandwich and one time a manager was there and he was so entertained by us he gave us like a full set of dishes to take home and I still have them and I used to collect many news from waffle houses around the country on road trips like our anytime. They came out with a new menu. I'd ask if I could take it home. And she's now passing those special waffle house moments onto her own children blue cheese kind of busy right. Now what's your favorite thing to eat here? Loss Clo- I have kids sooner brother. Both have it memorized? They've always share the all-star special or Napkins. Will somebody please get this girl some Napkins? So she can meal honest you can't live without hashbrowns blackout cash out your hand in front of your mouth without asking how it is indeed hard to live without. Hash browns and you know there's so many waffle houses spread across the south that government officials us whether their opener not as an indicator of how severe any natural disaster down here is the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Actually have a thing. Called the Waffle House Index. It was created by former. Fema administrator. Craig fugate listen him. Explain it from two thousand sixteen episode of the NPR game. Show wait wait. Don't tell me they are open. Most of the time and that was the index closed. Because astor's bad we call it red if they're open but have a limited menu. Yellow the index isn't just funny. It works because most southerners will tell you that. They depend on their neighborhood waffle house when mother nature throws life sideways which raises a bigger question. The kinda question the bitter southerner just loves to dig into. How is it possible for a two thousand store restaurant chain to become in the eyes of almost all southerners something more than just another anonymous place to eat plenty? Southern families believe it actually matters that they take their kids to a waffle house. I mean nobody down here. Thinks that way about the neighborhood applebee's and Emmanuel mean in a moment put the question this way? How can a cookie cutter restaurant chain win over the hearts of millions of people? Well like most things in our region. It's complicated but we think we have some answers for you so today on the bitter Southerner podcast the ways of the waffle house. The man I just mentioned is named Mica cash and we would not be having this conversation at all. Had he not called me with an idea back in two thousand? Eighteen Mica is a photographer based in Charlotte North Carolina and way back when when the bitter southerner was just a baby. He was among the first shooters to contribute a big photo a visual journalism as they say to the bitter Southerner Mike is a kind of journalists that any magazine editor loves because he picks a big topic and he gets fascinated. Maybe even obsessed with it for a long time folks like that always tell great stories and Mica began telling such stories with his photographs for the bidder southerner four years ago and in two thousand eighteen mica cash called me with a grand idea. He wanted to visit waffle houses all over the south with his camera. Living by a strict set of rules at every single waffle house he would sit down and order a meal and then shoot photographs only from where he sat and focused only on what he could see through the big plate glass windows. He said this exercise would teach us something important about the daily life of southerners sixty odd waffle houses and several months later. He came back with goods which we published under the headline. Waffle House Vistas on March Twelfth Twenty. Nineteen I went Throughout the deep South so Lou Louisiana Mississippi Alabama South Carolina North Carolina. Virginia Tennessee Kentucky. Arkansas Florida and what did you find at waffle house? All over the south in many respects waffle house is not remarkable right. I don't think it's meant to be. I mean eggs or eggs. Bacon is Bacon. It's meant to come out quick. It's meant to come out and taste good meant to be consistent every time it's meant to give you what you came there for. Michael's own rules were equally consistent. I wanted the viewer to know. Immediately of what you see the booth the screens the coffee mugs and I was in a waffle house. Feeling hungry be more neuner. Nine that is full into the waffle house. They always treat me right. Find my favorite table booth is nice and wide and I always order hashbrowns because they make a tasty side sometimes immediately leads toward the lived experience at all of us have with waffle house and then it forces the viewer with all of that lived experienced. Look out the restaurant and witness the world that we actually live in Chile. Fifty seven on my mind. I'll raise the eyebrows of the people. Walking by photographing the world. Outside of a waffle house was a conversation starter. You don't necessarily look at your server or look at somebody in the booth next to you and say hey where you from But when you are an artist and you're sitting in the house and you pull out a camera and you start photographing the parking lot and then people start to like what are you doing. And so you know you tell them what you do. And then they think about it and then that opens that door to have those conversations about well let me tell you. How long worked house or let me tell you I'm going to school. And this is my lifelong dream to do this. And then they came up in a way that was safe over food and that was the answer. Just money came out. Stay may be the one place. That's common to entire South where you can happen into a conversation. Just be Biden's regardless of their race place or station that's a waffle and Mike is photos and words became the Muslim widely. Read Story of Twenty nineteen for us so popular in fact that in December we wound up turning it into a real book the cons you can spread out on your lab now. You could stop right here by that book and be done with it but I think the job of this podcast is to dive into how and fly waffle house became such a plush. Those are the stories that you won't find in Micheals Brooke but you will find him here right after this break. This is a bitter shiner podcast from Georgia Public Broadcasting Teaching Com- back at the one term. We want you to know when you come in each day with a big yellow sign. Stand so tall that we're going to give you the best that we've got goes we're going to give it all. I welcome back to the bitter southern. Podcast we're talking on this episode about Waffle House now. The first thing you need to know about waffle house is that it is run very differently than your typical big corporation and I do know a thing or two about big corporations because in the middle part of my career. I wrote stuff quite a lot of them. Waffle houses management structure top to bottom is completely uncommon every executive in the management of those little diners. All the way up to executive. Vp's people you would expect to have grand offices and headquarters. None of those people even has an office every single meeting all their business. It's done inside a waffle house. Somewhere as the customers. Eat THEIR MEALS AROUND THEM. And the company just generally looks at the world differently. Were never heard. These folks ever want mentioned the phrase market segment because there are no segment. Everybody anybody is a costume and treating everyone walks waffle house as equal comes from not men who started the thing back in nineteen fifty five way back in the long ago. There were then named Tom and Business Day with hard. Work Them Up to WHO? Tom Ford Aaron Joe. Rogers senior had a dream simple restaurant for the people. He's Ed You build a restaurant. I'll show you how to run it. And we built a little place called off and the first voice. You heard Tom's followed by Joe's Joe said the makeup of the restaurant and its menu. Were not at all complicated. Plans consisted a one page at fourteen to stainless steel bar. My brother build it and leased it to us and I think it was a hundred and fifty dollars a month. We didn't know where we could pay then. But it's a good design on Labor Day nineteen fifty-five Joe and Tom Opened I waffle house restaurant in Avondale states. Georgia you could get a waffle with two eggs for seventy five cents. Charter for forty cents a filet Mignon for bug fifty. You could buy a whole pie for a dollar twenty five and all of this was available. Twenty four hours a day because as Tom Fortner wants wisely noted. Working People were out there. Twenty four hours a day with me. I I'd always of the opinion that pay once leaving at night. The milk man's out and music type of deliveryman and then just people go and come all twenty four hours a day and even as waffle house grew their focus on hospitality. Never Waned Joe. Rogers singer always put it above everything else. We need to kill him with cash. We need him. Oh how much we appreciate it. We need to while house be their home away from home now. Stephen me all the fun Joe. Senior died in March of twenty seventeen and Tom. Fortner followed him to the great beyond only a month later in their very first diners. Now a museum and it's the only waffle house anywhere that's open by appointment. Only but if you're ever in Avondale estates you ought to think about scheduling visit. Somebody from waffle house will come and take you through it. It is a fine way to spend an hour back in the waffle house where Avondale Estates People. Still Eat Gabrielle. Garrett is cooking some Hash browns on the flattop grill when we met her. Gabriel had only been working at waffle house for about four months but she told us that one of her favorite dishes to make actually isn't on the menu. My favorite thing to make is is very simple a raising real cheese. It's like A sweet and salty type fields. So something different faith if I had to do with something. That's on me you. I like making the Hash Brown vulgar's broncos and the malls and everything and that is a surprise if you knew what? Gabriel used to order from waffle house when she was a Kid. She talked with our producer. Sean Power L. Normally order has brown with some great. Because I don't eat eggs so yeah. What do you make your now? Megan this Berm Willie. Clayton picked strong. Grip Grill. Gabriel gear has been waffle house for less than a year. But she's got big dreams. She wants to rise from grill. Cook to executive you say what? Well the weird thing is that dreams like hers actually do come true at waffle house and often because if you didn't management training program the first thing you're going to do is start in a restaurant you're GonNa Cook you're going to serve. You'RE GONNA clean. The bathrooms in Vegas. Miller went into that program three decades ago and now he's an executive vice president Waffle House. Which means that he's responsible for more than two hundred stores more or less ten percent of all the awful houses. He has no office of course but he's got a car. He puts a lot of miles on traveling from store to store to store across Georgia and Tennessee. You know every waffle house employees name tag also lists where they were born and one of the first things I noticed when I met visas. Miller was his name tag says Bronx New York. It's a perfect icebreaker. So when I'm walking talking to the customers in the restaurant say I didn't know we have a waffle house in the Bronx. I said No. I'm not from the Bronx. And that's that then. We have a conversation about the bronx down here and we just start talking about it. So it's it's it's usually makes pretty good conversation now visas. I moved to Georgia for the same reason that many of our nation's most talented African American men come here to attend. Morehouse College Atlanta. He was an entrepreneur from the start right. After his graduation he opened a few restaurants and dry cleaners near Morehouse and the city's other historically black colleges and universities but his location had both advantages and disadvantages when the students were in session. Business was great when students went home for vacations and over the summertime. There was no business right in my wife. She you Was like I'm tired of the money going up and down and and so as a joke. She my resume out there and somebody from called series. I'm actually so we. She did without telling you this she did well telling me yeah. Yeah and so. Give credit to her She's the reason for my success. Besides being a fabulous woman you know she is. She put my resume out. I got a phone call and at the time I was. You know entrepreneur not like I really don't need to go and and and work for somebody else. I have my own business right but one thing I've always wanted to learn about other businesses. You know as you entrepreneur is always good for you to learn about his came to wildfowl and and and talk to Gary Cooper who was my first division manager and the things that really interests me about offer house says that we all homegrown so we all start. Doesn't matter what you've done in your previous life. Everybody that comes into the management program starts as a training and at restaurant X. Yes at one restaurant. So we'll start trade training program. It's about three months and then after you graduate from what we call waffles university then you are checked into a one store restaurant in your unit manager the next stage after unit managers district manager which is normally to three restaurants that you run. I was a unit manager for year. I was a district manager for a year and a half the next stage after being a district as a division manager which you have nine stores that you're responsible and I was a division manager for four and a half years And then the next step. That is a area manager which is about twenty seven stores so we kind of go in threes so as one store three store nine stores twenty seven stores and then the next stage after as a senior vice president which is about seventy five stores. And now you're an executive VP. So how many is that? So I have responsible for two hundred thirty restaurants and also responsible for fifty-six We have about three hundred. Roughly three hundred franchises and so we have Fifty six franchises that I'm also responsible for and those are in Atlanta roughly a hundred and fifty stores so in Atlanta and the rest are in middle. Tennessee Nashville. Murphy's Borough Knoxville and Chattanooga right right. So you're all over the place all over the place when he reached the level and you got two hundred plus stores to look after so many of those de wind up being physically every year on our my goal is at least stepping to one of my brother. He's one of my rush. Lots minimum one time of year and the interesting thing with people really don't understand said we're open twenty four hours And that means that we're responsible twenty four hours so we actually open a restaurant so in second shifts right and we also show third shift show because and I talked for awhile about incidents that have happened inside waffle houses that make the news now in that some of them including racially motivated violence or allegations police brutality and when that happens in one of his stores visas the person who has to handle it. Because that's his job and to do that. He says you gotTA keep one thing in mind. That PEOPLE ARE REPORT. Every one of them is different. Everyone has his or her own concern. You have good black people bad like people you have good white people have good everybody everybody so it's not a matter about race or anything like that. It's about treating people the way you want to be treated and respect people and and people striving towards some common goals and that was the beautiful thing that I loved about to south. And that's one of the things I'll about the house it's like we're all equal. You know I may have a title of an executive vice president but at the end of the day I'll come in and I'll sweep. Cook clean the bathrooms. I pick up trash outside and and I don't feel like I'm in better than any of our people that are working in any particular store. We're just all one family so now that you've learned about the business part less learn about the culture part point number one. The ways of the waffle house are so universal in the south they have become part of the way we talk or lexicon. This is particularly true when it comes to Hash browns the standard waffle house. Breakfast if you don't WanNa waffle that is offers the usual choices of me. A cooking method and toast options. And you can choose between grits or Hash browns now waffle house. Hash browns are seasoned potato scattered on hot flattop Grill and Brown to perfection on both sides on May also order them to be smothered with onions and covered in cheese. Scattered smothered and covered. It's a phrase that every single southerner knows regardless of how they like their hashbrowns. So let's say for instance. The two young southerners say they're in college by wake up one morning with hangover. One asks the other feeling. If the other one said scattered smothered and covered. That would be a perfectly acceptable response. The ways of awful house are now just part of how we talk now. I did however learn from Miller that the list of what a waffle house will do for your hashbrowns went far longer than even I knew. In addition to the standard three scattered smothered and covered. You may also were your hashbrowns. Peppered with Humping Yose Chunk with pieces of ham diced that is diced tomatoes topped with Chili and country. Meaning that it's topped with cream gravy. Well one day. I'm going try all that together. Culture point number two. Is the raisins all through this episode. You've been hearing songs about Waffle House. And that is no accidents. Host and there is a record label that is called waffle house records India cash shortages learn basin in them too. Now that song which is called their raisins in my toast is one of the trach released by waffle houses. Record Label Nadine. Gillespie is the president of that label. Which currently has about fifty waffle house themed songs and hear the songs online or you can hear them as intended on the Juke. Boxes at waffle houses all over the south elsewhere but Nadine says they never end up on the radio and they're not advertised. It's about the waffle house experience so it's meant to kind of enhance that experience versus making commercial venture out of the record label idea to make waffle house. Music was the brainchild of company CO founder. Joe Rogers senior in eighteen says one or two songs added to the record label every single year. One of the most recent songs we wrote was I think is called only at the Waffle House party on a his talks about the different funny things that happened. Waffle House. Like somebody giving birth at Waffle House or somebody writing their horse to the waffle house settle. We got a peaceful your of course. We have those kinds of stories that come out in the songs or just about the experience in general a shoe store on as she looks ahead. And aiding wants to broaden the Genre's music waffle house music covers batting were country tracks. Maybe reaching out to more established artists. We decided that we wanted to catch up with one of the earliest waffle house performers. Who Back in the late? Nineteen eighties and early nineties. I added her voice the Cadillac. My name is Alfreda Gerald and I'm one of the featured singers that you may hear on the waffle house. Juke boxes around the country when I walk into a waffle house. The first thing I'd do is look for the jukebox. I get a quarter or have are much. It is male and I go play myself on the Jukebox of a song. I usually play. Is I feel good at the waffle house. Look at the Yes. I remember this baby. Watch Paul again. I was young then. I arranged the melody and the vocals on I feel good at the waffle house gates inspired From the works of Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson has those influences. Just I remember. The second was yesterday now. I have not heard it in its entirety probably in thirty years. Well when I was big about this I was just trying to come up with a melody line. That was up with the Times at that time but I liked the hook. I feel good at the waffle house because is a very very catchy. And after the song goes off everyone is always going at the waffle house and so. I thought that that was not free. Local sound really. Good what I wanted to be a hit. It was going to be on waffle house radio and they had different aspirations for this back in the day. They didn't know where it was gonna even maybe might blow up and become something but I really wanted to go down in history just like enhance good. Yeah a lot of songs. Were could bet you know here of anymore. Didn't make but I feel good at the waffle house and several of the ones that you probably will play were popular enough to withstand the test of time and that was my go every time every time I look for the handle sides. Oh my goodness now. That really brought back. Memories to the next song is fair. Cooking Mountain Order Number One. I took them to Church needling again. Don't do that. You just want a big bowl of grits. After hearing that all right now a book do they don't really give us. These sounds ahead of time. You just walk in and you learn it on the spot. The music starts. And that's right down my alley. I know instinctively what to do so as soon as the music started. I knew what to do live because it really made me WanNa go to the house first of all and it was down home. Southern is just as is southern Gospel. I think as you can get the Sun. When I was thinking of this song I could just see them. Cooking up my order And that it was gonNA be grits and country ham and biscuits and not even a waffle. I don't think waffle is a country as as a biscuit but I Love Watson and find him and and these songs have as you already know. Have withstood the test of time way more than a lot of famous artists that we know. So you know my voice has been heard for thirty years and we'll be here for thirty more years when a lot of people won't so in essence. I am a star and I'm GONNA start the war do. That's Georgia singer. Alfreda Gerald one of the many artists to lend her voice to the waffle house. Record live on. You can hear more often out songs on our website so there you have the proof though awful houses so important to southern that we a US. It's Grill Cook Lingo in our everyday speech and that be some of our musicians are perfectly happy to write catchy little numbers about raisin toast or Hash browns but the most important thing is still what happens inside a waffle house mica cash wrote about it this way. Waffle house does not care how much you're worth what you look like where you're from what your political beliefs are or where you've been so long. As you respect the unwritten rules of waffle house be kind. Be Respectful and don't overstay when others are waiting for a table now when we decided to turn. Mica STORY INTO BOOK. We wondered who might write a perfect forward for it now began thinking of New Orleans and obelisks and bitter southerner contributor named Maurice Carlos Ruffin Maurice's debut novel last year we cast a shadow is just stunningly good rating. And I do recommend that you buy it. But when I asked mores feed be interested in this waffle House Project. I was surprised that he said yes. Immediately no hesitation whatsoever now a couple of days before I sat down with Venus Miller at the waffle house in Avondale States. Maurice had sent me the first draft of that forward and bless his heart the agreed to join us from New Orleans to read the first two paragraphs of it free. The South is my home. The salespeople are my people the Salads places on my places but when I traveled to new towns from Louisiana to begin you always take care when I walk into an unfamiliar establishment especially restaurants. I'm not looking for trouble. Yeah don't expect special treatment but I do expect normal treatment. I don't always get normal. Treatment entered a restaurant only to have the white employees stare at me into another white person broke the silence. I've been seeded by the bathroom. Garbage can despite the availability of open tables near bright plate. Glass Windows once while sitting with two out of town friends who kept staring over my shoulder. They brought to my attention to painting on the wall. A painting of an enslaved woman appearing food the painting was made to evoke nostalgia for a better time that never existed but it made me feel sick. I've never felt sick and a waffle house eaten waffle houses all over the south of Eden in Walpole houses at Sunrise and into the night when I was at a writing conference in Fair Hope Alabama a few years ago or suggests that we go find a late breakfast in town my friend. She was Jewish and we laughed at a black man in Jewish woman walking into a diner in the deep South Side. Like a great setup for a joke but there was no joke we went. We regretted seated and served. I had a crispy waffle. Swimming in Syrup would aside of Ham. I left with a full belly in a smile on my face. Just like anybody. That's the experience I've had every time I've gone to a waffle house in that's as it should be or thanks to Maurice Ruffin for sharing his perspective on Waffle House. And you know when I went to see visas Miller that day I took Maurice's essay with me a famous F wanting. Read it to Vegas because I felt like it got to the heart of what he himself had been telling me what he believed about the company he'd worked for. Cross three decades and I just wanted to see what he would say when he heard those words makes me feel good that the copyright for the person can feel like that right It just it just goes to the thing that we actually believe in that people get it and they see it and feel it you know. And that's that's the beauty of of this company. So I I you know you can't buy bitter words. You know what he wrote you know. That's that's perfect you know. Look at why. We don't advertise. That's advertisement we treat people right when they come in. We treat every single customer the same way and and people recognize and keep coming back and so I mean that's beautiful. That's it for us today. All our producer. Sean Powers Juggles orders. Flattop our editor Josephine Bennett. Make sure our customers are stories that they should be heard just lackey ordered them and on the show's episode page at Bitter Southerner Dot Com. We've posted links to where you can read Mica caches original photo essay and linked to where you can buy your very own copy of Waffle House vistas the book published by BS. Publishing our sincerest. Thanks go out to Mike Cash. For starting this whole adventure to Maurice roughing and North Carolina Rider Laura Bullard member of the llambi nation for contributing their words to this book. And He's thank you to Pat Warner of waffle house who so graciously introduced us to good. People LIKE VEGAS. Miller gave us permission to use all this waffle house. Music gave us access to recorded. Interviews with companies co-founder show Roger Senior and Tom Foreigner and finally forgiving a sweet personal tour of the Waffle House Museum in downtown Avondale estates Georgia. I am blessed to have many friends and I almost thank one of them. Patterson Hood for allowing us to use his ever. South is our theme song and its performance by his truly bad ass ban. Drive by truckers. If you like the bitter southerner podcast. Y'All need to review it and write it on apple podcasts. Even if you listen to it somewhere else please please. Pretty please do that because those reviews helped us so much or show is a CO production of Georgia public broadcasting in the bitter Southerner magazine. You can access more from each episode at GP Dot Org Slash podcast. I'm chuck race and my three. Instructions remained constant. Hug more next by no hatred. And spend your time doing what you love with who you love and you can twenty four seven do that at a waffle house so y'all in two weeks.