If you see a Southern Baptist Church on every street corner, a Dollar General every few blocks, and a Waffle House at every major intersection, fear not, you are not lost. You are probably cruising through the great state of Georgia. Down here, you can Eat, Pray, and Shop without leaving your neighborhood.
In the Southland, whenever folks use the initials WH, it is not a reference to the White House but rather the beloved corner diner with its signature yellow and black name in all capitals – WAFFLE HOUSE.
This always-open franchise is as much a Southern icon as magnolias, sweet tea, Mayberry, grits and “See Rock City” signs. For me, it is simply a place of fond memories and really good food. Their marketing tagline may be “Good Food Fast,” but it is also a mission statement for this Norcross, Georgia-based beacon of culinary consistency. For over 60 years, Waffle House has served fresh food, cooked to order on real china in an open kitchen.
First known for their waffles, their classic diner menu soon added what quickly became an iconic side dish that can be served nine different ways – Scattered (grilled), Smothered (Sautéed Onions), Covered (Melted Cheese), Chunked (Grilled Hickory Smoked ham ), Diced (Grilled Tomatoes), Peppered (Spicy Jalapeño Peppers), Capped (Grilled Button Mushrooms), Topped (Bert’s Chili), and Country (Sausage Gravy). If you don’t know what that means, then you have truly missed out on one of our regional delicacies. Any decent Southerner worth his grits is intimately familiar with the heavenly varieties of hash browns served at the local Waffle House. So when the WH waitress asks you “how do you like your hash browns?” she is asking a most serious question.
As a student at Georgia Tech in the early 1970s, I would often drop into a WH to catch a quick breakfast. During my junior year, when my Economics professor required each student to obtain profit and loss statements of various companies as part of a class project, I contacted WH Management about using their P/L Report. I was introduced to the VP of Operations who happened to be the son of the founder. He explained that as a private company they did not publish such reports. However, since he too was a GT graduate himself, he agreed to help out and provided enough information for me to complete my project.
I remember my parents loved Waffle House too. In their later years, they would drop in for lunch or dinner 2-3 times a week. The WH waitress knew them so well that she had their order placed and coffee poured before they walked in the door.
My favorite memory of a Waffle House occurred in December of 1995. My eldest son Joel had just started graduate school at Princeton the previous September. He soon called to express his disappointment. With his tongue firmly in cheek, he explained that people in New Jersey talked funny, were rude, the weather was turning cold and worst of all, they didn’t serve sweet iced tea. He hinted that when he came home for Christmas, he would not be returning to Princeton. Sure enough, on his way home, he called to say he had just crossed into North Carolina, stopped at the first Waffle House he could find, was drinking a glass of sweet iced tea and would be home in 6 hours…….and never planned to leave Georgia again. And he hasn’t.
But wait, there’s more.
In 2008, Joel started dating a sweet Southern belle named Rosemary. Where does he take her on their first date? You guessed it – Waffle House! Recognizing his appreciation for fine Southern cuisine, she later agreed to marry him. Oh, I should note that Joel had previously found out that Rosemary’s favorite restaurant was none other than Waffle House.
I guess she could have told him, “You had me at the hash browns.”
The appeal of this Southern landmark suggests that it is about more than waffles and hash browns. I have always thought the Church could learn a lot from Waffle House. It’s always open. It’s fully transparent (open kitchen). It serves that which is essential to life. Its menu (like the Gospel message) is simple. Its intimate setting of tables and countertops promotes community and conversation and everyone is welcome.
OK, maybe that analogy is a bit of a stretch, but come to think of it, how better to receive the grace of God than to be “Scattered, Smothered, and Covered” by it?
Who knew hash browns could be so inspiring?