*** SHOW NOTES ***
Being recorded on January 27, 2020, in the beautiful Hampton Inn & Suites Duluth, GA.
Last week was a quick 3 day Florida road trip. Down to Sarasota and then up and over to Jacksonville. The temperature dropped into the 30s and when that happens there is a propensity for the Florida Iguana’s dip into a comatous state and fall out of trees. This is great fodder for the local news outlets to post pictures of stunned baby Godzilla’s.
The only meal worth noting was at Bono’s BBQ on Bowden Road in Jacksonville. You could smell the smoke as soon as I got out of the car, and it got better as I closed in on the front door. My older was simple a dozen smoked chicken wings, plain. My plan was to use the wings to sample each and every one of their sauces. As a plus, they served Cheerwine, one of the greatest sodas in the world.
For many in the South, the Waffle House is a staple. It’s the butt of jokes such as “What has four breasts and two teeth?” “The midnight shift at Waffle House.” It is often referred to as the Awful Waffle.
If you’ve never eaten at a Waffle House, you’re truly missing out. For the most part, they’re open 24/7/365. This means you can start your day there with fresh waffles at 6:00 AM and also end your day there at 2:00 AM with more waffles and a side of hashbrowns in hopes of absorbing some of that alcohol from the third bar.
Possibly you’ve dined at a Huddle House, it’s not the same, not even close. Both were started in Georgia, both are open 24/7 and both serve breakfast all day long. However Huddle House serves fried mozzarella sticks, and while fried food is a Southern staple mozzarella sticks aren’t. Following alongside the My, Cousin Vinny line of, No self-respecting southerner uses instant grits. Well, no self-respecting southerner orders fried mozzarella sticks at a 24/7. That order’s reserved for those fancy restaurants such as Olive Garden.
Besides I’ve never been part of a pre-meeting meeting at a Huddle House. For the unaware, every meeting births a smaller pre-meeting without all the non-essential people, and if you think it doesn’t happen, I have some bad news for you.
The Waffle House corporate headquarters is in Norcross, GA, and at one point my office was less than two miles from there. Just down the street from there was this wonderful, now-closed Mexican restaurant, Lupita’s. I had been eating lunch at Lupita’s for the last 20+ years. The servers all knew our standard orders, and they’re delivered QHT…quick, hot & tasty. I know that one waiter had served me for at least 15 years.
My go-to was the Speedy Plate (Never trust a Mexican Restaurant that doesn’t offer a Speedy Plate) and the chicken burrito. On almost every visit Waffle House executives were there eating as well, so we always used that as a baramoter…. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us.
When you look at Waffle House, some of their numbers are staggering. Currently, there are about 2100 locations in the United States, by comparison, there are close to 14,000 McDonald’s in the United States.
If you laid all of the Smithfield Bacon that Waffle House® serves in a year, end-to-end, it would wrap all the way around the equator! That’s over 25,000 miles of a Bacon Belt!! Here’s a quick Smithfield story. About fifteen years ago I had a project at Smithfield Foods in Smithfield VA. Smithfield produces bacon, ham and Nathan’s hotdogs, and at the time Smithfield was still a small town, so small that I stayed at Mansion On Main Bed-&-Breakfast because there were no local hotels. As I was given a tour of the campus you couldn’t help but smell the hickory or oak odor that blanketed the town. A few minutes later the operations manager asked, “Do you smell that?” ah, yeah…. Then he added, “That’s the smell of money!”.
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 four times the size of the Empire State Building!
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!
Per-minute they serve:
- 341 Strips of Bacon
- 238 Hashbrown Orders
- 145 Waffles
- 127 Cups of Coffee
- 33 Hamburgers
Every Waffle House location is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The restaurant even stages backup supplies and personnel to be ready to stay open in the event of hurricanes and other natural disasters. Because of the restaurant’s dependable round-the-clock service, FEMA uses an informal “Waffle House Index” to gauge the severity of natural disasters. Code Green means all is well and the restaurants are fully functioning; Code Yellow means a limited menu is being served and the power may be out; Code Red means the restaurant is closed and the sky might be falling.
Another interesting fact – Waffle House was once licensed to sell chicken sandwiches from Chick-fil-A, also based in Atlanta. It seems the sandwiches were so popular that people stopped ordering items off of Waffle House’s regular menu, so Waffle House punched out of the deal. Here’s my Chick-fil-A story. In the late 1970s, my summers were spent in Black Mountain, NC at Camp Ridgecrest. It was an eclectic group of campers, Mel Tillis’s son Mel Tillis Jr. was there along with former Atlanta Falcon Taz Anderson’s son, Geoff. Another side story if you ever drive north through downtown Atlanta, just past the Varsity restaurant is a faux Olympic flame from the 1996 Olympics. Taz was responsible for that, aptly named — “Taz’s Tower”. Back to Camp Ridgecrest, another fellow camper was Truett Cathy’s grandson. At that time there was just a handful of Chick-fil-A locations, most were inside a mall. Every summer Chick-fil-A would send a huge shipment of chicken sandwichs to camp. Kids from all across the country got their first taste of Chick-fil-A, not in a building but in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Chick-fil-A went on to hire several counselors and campers as they expanded across the country.
There are also a few urban legends associated with Waffle House. What I’ve found with urban legends is that most of the time there’s enough validity in what’s being said to make it plausible.
While it’s true that Waffle Houses are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (even on Christmas!), it’s not true that the restaurants don’t have locks on the doors, according to the Waffle House website. (Also not true: The keys to each new location are buried in the cement sidewalk out front.)
The other one that I hear on a regular basis is that Waffle House is secretly in the real estate business. This makes sense, as most locations are on very desirable pieces of land. In Norcross, GA there are two locations less than a mile from each other on Jimmy Carter Blvd. In addition, Waffle House has a surplus property website where real estate sites no longer used as Waffle House restaurants are available for purchase. And no, they can not be reopened as a Waffle House.
Waffle House has had its brushes with stardom as well.
- In October 2007 Kid Rock was arrested after a 5:00 AM brawl inside one of the locations.
- Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Chrissy Teigen, and John Legend enjoyed date night there in 2015.
- Waffle House is mentioned in close to a dozen rap songs.
- In 2016 Anthony Bourdain visited his first Waffle chef Sean Brock. Bourdain opens the video segment with “It is indeed marvelous — an irony-free zone where everything is beautiful and nothing hurts; where everybody regardless of race, creed, color or degree of inebriation is welcomed.”…… more words than I would’ve used, but I’m not nearly as poetic as Bourdain was.
When traveling my tendency is always to eat local. I want to experience the area that I’m in, and there’s no better way to do that than through food. Sometimes local doesn’t work out, so my fall back is tried and true. Such as Buffalo Wild Wings, Applebee’s or Waffle House.
My order is similar to Chef Sean’s, pecan waffle and hash browns. Simple, to the point and guaranteed to fill you up.
The waffles have a handful, possibly two handfuls of pecans cooked into the waffle. This isn’t one of those thick hotels styled Belgium waffles, this is prepared by a professional and early awaits butter and syrup.
Hash browns require a bit more thought. They come “scattered” which is plain and in three different sizes: regular, large or triple.
Now you’ve got to kick them up a bit.
- Smothered: sautéed with onions
- Covered: melted American cheese
- Chunked: with chunks of grilled hickory smoked ham
- Diced: tomatoes
- Peppered: jalapeño peppers
- Capped: grilled button mushrooms
- Topped: with Bert’s Chili
- Country: with sausage gravy
If you want all of the above just order them, “All the way.”
If you want to immerse yourself in the Waffle House culture I encourage you to sit at the counter, it’s the best seat in the house.
First, look around the on the floor, normally there will be a red tile. That’s where the server will stand to call out your order to the person working the grill, it’s called the mark.
Next, you should hear the pull. Which is the required meat for the order. A serving of Waffle House bacon is three slices, so “Pull one bacon” is the signal to cook three pieces of bacon.
Finally, you should hear the “Drop”. That’s the number of hash browns and their toppings.
You can also watch the plates on the grill line. Often times the cook will place ketchup, jelly and mayonnaise packets around the edge of the plate. The cook uses theses as markers so he knows what food items go on each plate. Honestly, I think you have to work there to understand that part of their system.
With 2100 locations, you’re bound to come across one at some point so stop in and order up some pecan waffles with a side of hash browns covered. I promise your stomach will thank you.
Thanks for listening, safe travels and have a great day.
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