It’s a sad day at Waffle Houses all over the nation today as the tiny restaurants mourn the loss of Waffle House co-founder Joe Rogers Sr. Waffles must impart longevity, however, since Rogers lived to 97, and his co-founder Tom Forkner is 99.
Forkner and Rogers founded Waffle House in 1955 in Avondale Estates, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta. Rogers was 36 at the time, and working for a restaurant chain called Toodle House. He had been employed in the restaurant industry for the previous eight years, starting out as a short-order cook and eventually working his way up to management. Rogers moved to Avondale Estates after being promoted to Regional Manager. He needed to buy a home in his new town, and that’s when he met Tom Forkner. Forkner convinced Rogers to open a restaurant together, and Waffle House was born.
Waffle House grew to over 1,900 locations across 25 states in the United States. They reach as far North as Austinburg, Ohio and as far South as Key West, Fla. The concept pioneered by Rogers and Forkner was a dine-in restaurant that served customers quality food as quickly as fast food. Despite being named for a breakfast food, Waffle House serves a lunch and dinner menu as well. Breakfast is a popular aspect of the restaurant, and since opening, Waffle House has served over 2.5 billion eggs. Being open 24 hours is a core precept of Waffle house. They are so well-known for their round-the-clock operating hours that FEMA developed the Waffle House Index as an informal measure for evaluating the devastation of a storm.
Rogers and Forkner ran Waffle House until the 1970’s and continued to visit the corporate offices well into their 80’s. Joe Rogers, Jr. took over for his dad, but retired himself in 2013. Joe Rogers Sr. is survived by his wife of 74 years, Ruth. He also leaves behind four children and numerous grandchildren. Rogers was known for saying, “We’re not in the food business, we’re in the people business.” In a press release his son, Joe Rogers Jr. echoed that sentiment.
“My father genuinely loved every customer who walked into a Waffle House, and customers immediately understood that,” he stated. “The customer always came first for him, and he made sure the customer came first for everyone who worked with him.”