Author’s note: This is the last in a short series on an Offutt summer vacation.
I once vowed to never eat at Waffle House.
It’s true. That’s why I was a bit shocked when it happened.
I have nothing against Waffle House, Inc. The unobtrusive buildings with plain yellow signs mar the landscape far less than its fellow fast food restaurants. The company doesn’t advertise, so obnoxious commercials haven’t rubbed me wrong.
Just the opposite. Waffle House has made a pretty good name for itself. To better serve its customers during hurricanes, floods and tornadoes (often typical down-times in the restaurant industry), Waffle House is one of the few stores that keeps its locations open.
FEMA director Craig Fugate told the Wall Street Journal during the 2004 hurricane season in Florida, “If you get there and the Waffle House is closed? That’s really bad.”
FEMA has since developed the “Waffle House Index” to determine the extent of a disaster.
Green: Full menu, minimal damage to the area.
Yellow: Limited menu, moderate damage.
Red: Restaurant closed, severe damage.
That’s from the Wall Street Journal, folks.
The company has 2,100 restaurants in 25 states, mostly in the South, so people must like the place, right? Then why does every tragic fast food story I read involve Waffle House?
• A couple in Nashville got into an argument in their motel room in 2006, then left the motel to go to the Waffle House next door – naked and still arguing.
• When musician Kid Rock’s tour bus stopped at an Atlanta Waffle House in 2007, a member of Rock’s entourage picked a fight with a fellow Waffle House customer.
• A man attempted to rob a Norcross, Georgia, Waffle House with a pitchfork in 2014.
• Police arrested a couple having sex in a Waffle House parking lot in Loganville, Georgia, in 2013. After the couple put their clothes back on, the woman attempted to wear a cheeseburger as a sandal.
• In 2016, a customer shot a waitress at a Biloxi, Mississippi, Waffle House because she asked him not to smoke.
OK, so I guess it’s not Waffle House I’m afraid of, it’s the customers.
That and the grits. I’d never eaten them. Grits, simply enough, are boiled ground corn, which sounds as appetizing as boiled ground dirt. Growing up in the Midwest, I’d heard of grits, I’d just never encountered them. As foreign as grits sounded to me, they might as well have been French.
So, on the final day of our family vacation to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, my father-in-law offered to buy everyone breakfast – at Waffle House. It seemed inevitable; there were two of them within a mile of our rental house, both with great views of the beach.
The experience wasn’t what I expected. I wasn’t stabbed. There weren’t any live chickens on my table. Not one police car came screaming into the parking lot. The cooks and wait staff were courteous and the coffee was good. And the grits? I actually enjoyed them.
I’m just glad I waited until I got home to read the article about two Forrest City, Arkansas, Waffle House employees who washed their hair in a pot on the restaurant stove.
Now that’s cookin’.
Find out about everything Jason at jasonoffutt.com.