The rain was relentless on the 6-hour drive from Tallahassee to New Orleans. With hunger and fatigue enveloping me as the afternoon wore on, I finally caved in to my boyfriend’s pleas that we eat at a fast food place off the highway. For him, who’s German, “it’s something that belongs to the American experience.” Like eating bratwurst in Germany once was for me.
My condition was that we go to a Waffle House. It’s just because I remembered it as not being one of the cold corporate burger places, and having a homey feel – from the one time I’d been there some 7 years back when I lived in North Carolina. I generally avoid fast food places, but I don’t consider The Waffle House entirely as one. The U.S. chain, open since 1955 and most popular in the South, has just recently, and very slowly, been trying out having drive-thrus. When inside, you get service at the table. You can watch the cooks as they make your food, as the kitchen is in open view, behind the bar counter.
I was impressed to see how many Waffle Houses there were along Highway 10 – one at almost every exit we passed by. And open 24 hours. We got off Exit 16 on Highway 10 and dashed away from the storm into the Waffle House in Diamondhead, Mississippi. There we were attended to by young Jacob, from nearby Biloxi. He behaved like a true Southern gentleman, calling me “ma’am,” regularly checking up on us, answering our questions very politely and with interest. We had decent hashbrowns and waffles and free coffee refills. We chatted with Jacob about the place having a lot of regulars and relying largely on word-of-mouth for promotion. He recommended we visit his hometown and gave us tips. We watched how he and the employees were playful with each other, and seemed cheerful. They told us about having had to work on holidays, but not being particularly annoyed about it.
Not something you’d expect from a fast food place.
Behind us hung photos of an elderly woman who apparently had worked at The Waffle House for 47 years, and of the two founders, both in their current old age and as soldiers. Jacob said he is also getting ready to join the military. We wished him luck, left him a nice tip and headed to the door. Before going back to the car, I took a silly picture in front of a Santa Claus Waffle House poster, part of a selfie contest I didn’t intend to enter.
Nothing too unusual happened to us there, besides the nice personable interaction with the employees. But actually, The Waffle House has got enough character, controversy, craziness and crime to have become part of Southern American lore and inspired dozens of lists on the Web. It attracts everyone from the regular Joe or Jane to batty naked women to celebrity chefs to journalists to rappers, some of whom are very loyal regular customers – wealth, better food options, disappointment or arrest still can’t keep some people away, apparently. One thing I’ve read in a lot of the articles I’ve found about The Waffle House is that it’s accepting of people, no matter what condition they’re in when they walk in and order.
If you’ve had memorable experiences at The Waffle House yourself, please share them with us here! (Note: The Waffle House is in no way endorsing us to write this).