It all started in Avondale Estates: the glowing yellow beacon in the sky, the scattered, smothered and covered hash browns, the late nights, the comfort.
The small DeKalb County city where the Waffle House empire began is now mourning co-founder Joe Rogers Sr. He died Friday at age 97, leaving a legacy as a man obsessed with customer service, who saw himself more as a “waffle cook” than an executive.
“He was a World War II vet and an all around good guy,” Mayor Jonathan Elmore said Tuesday. “I think he’s someone we should all look up to.”
Rogers founded Waffle House in 1955 with neighbor Tom Forkner. The pair had met when Rogers bought a house from Forkner, who was in the real estate business.
They decided Avondale Estates needed a 24-hour restaurant. It launched Labor Day 1955.
Then everywhere else needed a 24-hour diner, and the pair was happy to oblige. They grew the business to hundreds of restaurants by the time they phased themselves out of the day-to-day in the late 1970s.
They kept coming to the office for many years, until just a few years ago.
Now there are 1,900 Waffle Houses across the country.
“The city of Avondale is very proud it began here,” Elmore said. “Waffle House 1,000 is here. We’e very proud of that. We’re very happy they renovated the original Waffle House and turned it into a museum.”
The company is now based in Norcross, but Avondale Estates holds as the hometown of the iconic chain.
City leaders haven’t had a chance to discuss what they might do to honor Rogers.
But they will do something. Rogers and Forkner, who is now 99, did too much for the city.
Officials feel it even today when they’re promoting the Avondale Estates.
“(Being) the birth place of Waffle House is one of the top three things we brag about,” Elmore said.