Joe Rogers Sr., co-founder of the iconic Waffle House, died this past March at age 97. Born in rural Jackson, TN, he firmly believed that “people—your family, your friends your neighbors” are the most important parts in life. “All of your communication,” he wrote, “is person to person and everything you do is built around relation-ships.” Friendly people serving good food fast at affordable prices remains the essence of the Waffle House philosophy today.
Working as a short-order cook in the 1950s for the Memphis-based Toddle House, Rogers decided to start his own diner with partner Tom Forkner. They opened their first store in 1955 at 2179 East College Avenue in Avondale Estates. The landmark building is now open once a month as a museum.
By 1961 Rogers and Forkner had 4 diners. Waffle House—with its basic menu many know so well and its classic retro architecture—became a true southern phenomenon when it began franchising in the 1960s. Today Waffle House has more than 2,100 franchises in 25 states.
My friends Jack and Marianne tell one of my favorite Waffle House stories. They wanted to take her visiting Mom out to Waffle House to give her a first-time experience. But she got very quiet on the way and soon they found out why: she was afraid, bless her heart, that you can only get waffles at Waffle House!
Joe Rogers Sr. was special because he made a positive difference in the lives of so many people he did not know. There are times when only the comfort food of Waffle House can make things better, and it’s always open, never locks its doors. Joe is survived by his wife Ruth, 4 children, and 24 grand and great-grandchildren.
-Dr. Paul Hudson