Atlanta Nightside: Third shift at Waffle House

Vecus Miller is from the Bronx, born and raised in New York City. But now he's one of Waffle House's top guys in Atlanta, helping keep two dozen restaurants humming 24/7. If you hit a Waffle House at 2 a.m., you might see him pitching in, washing dishes or taking orders.

As a regional vice president for the Norcross-based chain, Miller, 39, oversees 26 stores from downtown Atlanta to Stone Mountain. Miller, who attended Morehouse College, started at Waffle House almost nine years ago as a manager trainee. He learned how to wait tables and cook food. Now, the Snellville resident does a good portion of his work on the third shift, from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. True to urban legend, the locks on the door of most Waffle House restaurants are rarely used.

"Really, our day never ends," he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a phone interview from his car, after finishing a three-hour meeting.

This is Miller's job, in his words.

With all the events and parties that go on in downtown Atlanta, depending on what's going on, (managers) might decide to work the second shift or the third shift. What better time to meet your associates and work with customers? Clearly, there is a difference from the first shift to the third shift. In the first shift (during daylight hours), you have a lot of families. Third shift, you have people coming to the clubs, leaving the clubs.

Our managers do a fantastic job of going out and doing something we call "walk the mile." We want every single one of our unit managers to own the mile around their stores. You run into schools that are doing special things for football games. We learn a lot about what's going on in the community. We find out about events and we put it all in our master calender.

(Never closing) can be a challenge at times. But we've done a good job of assigning inter-shift responsibility. The beginning of the next shift should be like a brand new store, because you wash things down. When the next shift comes on, they're walking into a relatively set-up environment. Our slower time is usually the drive-time in the afternoon, when people are driving home from work. So we do some cleaning then.

Third shift offers associates a lot of flexibility, so we usually don't have too much of a problem finding people who would work that. We don't put Waffle Houses in areas that would be too undesirable during the third shift. But we have to really recruit a very solid associate team that handles the club crowd and that is orderly during the third shift. You'd be amazed at the techniques that our grill operators use to keep people calm if they've had a little too much to drink. They are masterful at keeping everybody in line. If someone's not satisfied with their food, instead of going back and forth and arguing about it, they'll just make them something else. Our associates love putting on a show, and they just enjoy it. They're not like, ‘You're talking too loud, so you have to leave.' I've seen a lot of situations that could have gotten bad but didn't because of our people.

It happens pretty regularly, coming in on the third shift when needed. Our associates do a great job and sometimes we'll come in and work with our third shift just to say "thank you" and say we are still one team. By design, we try to show up and help out. We keep our ears real close to the street.

Our offices are the actual Waffle Houses. You learn the city very well. We try to stay off the interstates. Even with the traffic, there's always a way to get around.

My favorite meal is the rib-eye. Very good cut of meat. I'll have the rib-eye dinner, hold the Texas toast, and I'll have a salad with that. Also, chicken and eggs -- four scrambled with cheese, hold the yolk on three.