Friedrich Nietzsche nailed the idea of Waffle House in 1886.
“One has to know the size of one’s stomach.” That’s what he wrote in “Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future” a whole 69 years before Waffle House griddled its first hash browns.
If you judge these restaurants on the quality of their food, you’re missing the point. The purpose of these places is one of comfort and self-awareness — like some people in our lives, Waffle Houses are not comforting because they are good, they are comfortable because they are consistent and always there for you at any hour.
Since 1955, when the first store opened its doors in Avondale Estates, the diner franchise has smothered and covered the United States.
Though I haven’t been to all of them, it’s safe to say the more than 1,900 stores — from the northernmost store of Austinburg, Ohio, down south in Key Largo, Florida, and out west in Goodyear, Arizona — are all different.
But there are characteristics of what makes a Waffle House good.
To gain such very scientific insight, I tweeted out a question asking people to tell me their favorite Waffle House in metro Atlanta and why.
There were scores of responses, including one from an elected official and another from a man in Barbados. Each was a small window into hundreds of lives and how those lives interacted with Waffle House.
One person recounted the one in Grayson where he went with his brother and father on Saturday mornings before yardwork. People said some spots were respites during Snowmageddon. One wrote: “I can’t remember half the waffle houses I go to …”
But there were memory-filled favorites, like the one on Cheshire Bridge Road:
“We used to go in high school after parties and the blend of Onyx etc. crowds coming in at 2am made every single trip memorable.”
“The one on Cheshire Bridge holds a special place in my heart, so many memories. I remember lighting up a cigarette in there about 15 years ago right after smoking in restaurants ended. I was offended when they told me to put it out, ‘this is Waffle House’, I proclaimed.”
The location at Georgia State University was a spot for study sessions, and for another it was “always hella loud and they always (expletive’d) my order up, and those two things are essential to the waffle house experience.”
The location at Georgia Tech has a reputation for its lively mix of students, Midtown residents and tourists.
To one Oglethorpe University student, the Peachtree Road Northeast location “was a popular spot my freshman year. My heart (and liver) will be with it forever.”
There’s something to be said for a relatively cheap place that seems to only ever be a few exits away from anywhere you’re driving where people have a drawl.
When you’re on the road, the warm yellow sign gives way to the experience of radical transparency, one in which someone cooks your whole meal in front of you — it’s like Southern hibachi.
And in the restaurant industry, where everything changes so quickly for reasons as complex as business strategies or drought, there’s something comforting about a menu that hasn’t changed in what seems like forever.
It’s the combination of any-hours fun, stomach-stuffing food and a jukebox to sloppily sing along with.
Those are the things that make a Waffle House a Waffle Home.
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution