Waffle House Co-Founder Dies; After-Party Lives On

Last Friday March 3, a great man named Joe Rogers Sr. who co-founded the Waffle House restaurants, passed away at the age of 97. Rogers created the beloved late-night stand-by—whose yellow-roofed 24-hour diners would eventually pop up all over the South—along with his neighbor and friend Tom Forkner, who is alive and well at the age of 99. Just goes to show what a lifetime of pecan waffles, black coffee, and smothered, covered, chunked, and topped hash browns can do for your health.

The very first Waffle House opened its doors on Labor Day weekend in 1955 at 2719 East College Avenue in Avondale Estates, Georgia in an actual house that Joe Rogers Sr. purchased from Forkner—who at the time made his living in real estate. While the two phased themselves out of daily operations in the mid-1970s, they continued to spend time at the headquarters when they were well into their eighties.

Prior to founding Waffle House, Rogers got his start in the restaurant business at Toddle House, a now-defunct chain that also stuck to a 24/7 business model. After the partners realized they could open up a place of their own, Rogers famously told Forkner, “You build a restaurant and I’ll show you how to run it.”

There are now 1,900 Waffle House restaurants in the chain and approximately 40,000 workers employed by the company.

We all remember the Jay Z lyric about “4 a.m. at the Waffle House,” and we’ve all been there: after the club, ordering orange juice and a patty melt through one eye while taking in the secondhand smoke and some nostalgic hits on the jukebox.

In fact, the famous Southern franchise has become one of the most name-checked restaurants in hip hop, thanks to its being open for business 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Other notable mentions include Kanye West’s “30 Hours” and Future’s “Dirty Sprite.”

Rogers was often heard to say, “We’re not in the restaurant business, we’re in the people business.” Basically, Waffle House is where the real afterparty is at—if ya don’t know, now ya know. Salute!

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