Don't look for pancakes at this house, because it doesn't serve 'em. Waffle House is the #2 family-style restaurant chain (behind Denny's) with more than 1,500 diners in about two dozen states, mostly in the South. The eateries are popular for eggs, grits, and waffles, as well as their famous "scattered, smothered, and covered" hash browns. In addition to day starters, the menu features T-bone steaks, cheeseburgers, and sandwiches for lunch and dinner. Invoking the 1950s-style diner, Waffle House units are typically free-standing and open 24 hours a day. About half the locations are franchised. Joe Rogers Sr., father of CEO Joe Rogers Jr., started the family-owned business with partner Tom Forkner in 1955.
The Waffle House brand trades heavily on history and tradition, so very little has changed at the company over time. It has also resisted the urge to expand far from its core southern markets. With a loyal customer following and nearly ubiquitous presence throughout the South, Waffle House doesn't need to market itself relentlessly like rival chains IHOP (owned by DineEquity) and Denny's. The chain has developed close relationships with food suppliers to serve exclusively Coca-Cola soft drinks, Heinz condiments, and Smithfield bacon. It also boasts several celebrities among its fans, including Britney Spears, former running back Emmitt Smith, and actor Billy Bob Thornton.
Despite its popularity, Waffle House has not been immune to recession that has hurt many in the restaurant industry. The company took over more than 110 locations in 2009 after Florida franchisee Northlake Foods filed for bankruptcy the previous year. Another franchisee, Tennessee-based SouthEast Waffles, also sought bankruptcy protection in 2008. The two businesses together operated more than 250 Waffle House locations. – less