If you’ve spent much time in the South, Waffle House is as much a part of life as college football and oppressive humidity. This may be even more true for musicians, shift workers, drunks, college students, and other devotees of the vampire schedule (N.B.: some of these categories overlap.), because it’s not at all unusual to discover that Waffle House is the only 24-hour eatery around.
That was certainly the case in Mondoville until a couple of years ago, when Sonic decided to stay open around the clock. We have a couple of Waffle Houses here; one is at one of Mondoville’s three Interstate exits, and the more recent one (likely to be called “the new Waffle House”, even fifty years from now) is closer to the center of town, near the Wal-Mart. More than a few of my former and current students have sworn allegiance to one or the other.
The restaurants themselves are fascinating mixes of standardization and quirkiness, with chain-wide jargon and codes, and with chefs who prepare meals quickly and efficiently without written tickets. The jukebox will have a mix of country tunes, perhaps a smidgen of redneck rock, and (best of all, for me, anyway) the chain’s own songs, pressed on their private label.
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/132370472″>Color Me Gone</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user15409721″>Waffle House</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
Even though Clan Mondo doesn’t eat there that often, I can’t help but smile when I’m coming home from one trip or another and I see the familiar yellow-and-black grid of Mondoville’s Waffle House signs — they let me know that I’m only a few minutes from my family and my bed. As I said, Waffle House is part of the fabric of life down here.
I’m writing about Waffle House this morning because the chain’s co-founder, Joe Rogers, has died at the age of 97. He started the company with a real-estate investor in 1955, and saw it grow to more than 1800 locations over the ensuing 60+ years. I doubt he realized at first that he was building a cultural institution, but like millions of others over the decades (most of whom paid cash — the company didn’t take plastic until 2006), I’m glad he did.
So long, Mr. Rogers, and thanks for being a part of the South.
A tip of the Mondo Mortarboard to James Mills, via Facebook.