It’s hard to explain the importance of Waffle House to someone that hasn’t spent much time in the South. On the West Coast there is no equivalent to the ubiquitous Southern chain that dots every every two-lane highway and interstate below the Mason-Dixon line.
Sure the food is reliably mediocre, but it’s the 24-hour schedule that makes Waffle Houses an unofficial crossroads for long haul truckers, concert goers, bar hoppers and those who crave pecan waffles or biscuits and jelly at 4 a.m.
“Where else can you go for a cozy bar seat after standing all night? Bright lights to wake you back up, touch tunes to calm you down and plenty of cold thick chocolate milk to satisfy a sweet tooth, all while your ears are still ringing?” said Sara Lillian, a sports and music publicist living in Greenville, South Carolina. “Waffle Houses are like a night out requirement. Without Waffle House, hangovers would make Sundays even more unbearable.”
The shooting Saturday (April 21) that left four dead at a Waffle House in the suburbs of Antioch, near Nashville, hit close to home for the night owls and late-night musicians who tour and work in the South. The quiet and generally safe diner now finds itself in the news after another shooting tragedy forces Americans to reexamine another American institution once believed to be safe.
“It’s the only 24-hour choice and there are probably more musicians at Waffle House in the Nashville area than any other profession at night. There’s one at every exit,” said Sue Nichols with Amusement Today, who counts two in her small 15,000-person Tennessee town.
Waffle Houses are known for rowdiness, Southern attitude and drunken scuffles. Kid Rock had to pay out $40,000 in damages after a jury handed an Atlanta man a civil judgement that found Rock and his crew liable for a fight in a Georgia Waffle House in 2007. Catching Waffle House brawls on video is social media gold, whether it’s in Lima, Ohio or Fayetteville, North Carolina. There’s even a sub-genre of videos of Waffle House employees fighting each other.
That has always been the running joke for Waffle House and its strangely comforting menu; the later it was, the more likely crazy shit would go down, but we all experienced it and LOLed it together. And remember, the shenanigans usually happen late at night; by day Waffle House is a fairly respectable place. Atlanta ticketing pro Jennifer Staats Moore pointed out that “Southern football coaches go to Waffle House after the big games,” including Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn.
After Auburn beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl in November, the 52-year-old coach sat down at a Waffle House and ordered a “Ham and cheese omelet, scattered, smothered, covered and chunked, and some bacon,” according to USA Today sports writer George Schroeder — Malzahn even signed the menu.
— George Schroeder (@GeorgeSchroeder) November 26, 2017
“You are forgetting crew, bands, drivers, etc,” Jim Lewi with Red Light and Aspen Live wrote to me on Facebook. “Waffle House is a staple for US touring people.”
Part of that is because of the sheer utility of Waffle House — “They tend to be open on all major holidays,” explains Bill Young Presents’ Sid Farbstein, “so you have a place to go when you have no place to go.”
But some insist the menu has its gems if one knows how to order right.
“Where else are you going to pound some scattered, covered and smothered hash browns while listening to a song about hash browns on a tiny jukebox,” said promoter Evan Ophuck, highlighting one of the best parts of Waffle House —special jukeboxes that play songs only written about the Waffle House, including Billy Dee Cox’s heart-warming “Special Lady At The Waffle House.”
Singing praise to the Waffle House has become its own sub-genre of music. Stephen Colbert and Sturgill Simpson have not one, but two songs paying tribute to the “Awful Waffle.”
What else can be said about the Waffle House? New Atlanta Falcon Julio Jones once told reporters “In high school, my nickname was Waffle House. Know why? Because I’m always open.”
Amazing. We’ll take the check please. Stay safe Waffle House.