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Paper hat, bow tie, no eyes: the Waffle House vintage mascot didn't catch on.
Paper hat, bow tie, no eyes: the Waffle House vintage mascot didn't catch on.

Waffle House Museum

Field review by the editors.

Decatur, Georgia

"A lot of people stop by, thinking we serve food," said Kelly Thrasher, our Waffle House Museum guide, after gently turning away a woman who interrupted our tour looking for a cup of coffee.

"Museum" is on the sign, but waffle zombies still drop in looking for food.

The Waffle House franchise, an icon of the American South, is known for its "scattered and smothered" hash browns, "bacon lover's" BLTs, and namesake waffles (and coffee). The Waffle House Museum occupies the world's first-ever Waffle House, which opened on September 5, 1955. Company founders (and neighbors) Joe Rogers and Tom Forkner "wanted to open 10 restaurants and then go fishing," according to one of the museum exhibits.

Food is no longer served in the original Waffle House, which does confuse some passers-by. Kelly explained that its vintage 1955 interior is a best guess, because Joe and Tom never took photos during its early years, and only belatedly realized that their fishing dreams would be indefinitely postponed (The chain currently has around 1800 locations). Even so, Kelly said that the restoration is reasonably accurate, and we found it to be a worthy member of America's fast food shrines. Unlike drive-up competitors such as McDonald's #1 and In-N-Out Burger #1, visitors can sit inside the original Waffle House, just as they did in 1955.

Plaque notes the griddle was salvaged from a Waffle House destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
Plaque notes the griddle was salvaged from a Waffle House destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Joe and Tom may have been slackers as shutterbugs, but they were packrats when it came to saving Waffle House memorabilia. That's evident in the "museum" part of the Waffle House Museum, which occupies the building next to the restored restaurant. Here visitors can see everything from Joe's custom Waffle House blazer to the Waffle House Harvard Business School study authored by his son, Joe Jr. A special showcase displays battered relics salvaged from the seven Waffle Houses that were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. A photo-op allows you to pose with life-size likenesses of Joe and Tom while sitting on prototype Waffle House counter stools that Kelly said were never put into production.

Golden corporate suit of Waffle House co-founder Joe Rogers.
Golden corporate suit of Waffle House co-founder Joe Rogers.

"It's not unheard-of to see our CEO washing dishes," said Kelly, who explained that all Waffle House executives and home office employees, including herself, have to work a full shift in a Waffle House at least one day a year. The company doesn't advertise this, so there's no way to know if your server or cook is in fact a Waffle House senior VP.

Most Waffle Houses have jukeboxes stocked with Waffle House songs, and the museum has one with a complete selection that visitors can play, including "Waffle House Hash Browns (I Love You)" and "Last Night I Saw Elvis at the Waffle House." Kelly said that the song idea came from Joe Jr's first wife, an aspiring actress who wrote and sang many of the earliest compositions. "It was a way to have her involved with the business," Kelly said.

Delicious brand identity baked into every waffle.
Delicious brand identity baked into every waffle.

The museum exhibits vintage hats, menus, and uniforms, as well as Waffle House promotional t-shirts and motivational buttons, with slogans such as "We're Smothering You With Service" and "Chocolate Pie: it's not just for breakfast anymore." We asked Kelly how many different buttons Waffle House had produced over the years. "Easily there's got to be thousands," she said. "We're really big on flair."

The Waffle House Museum is only open by appointment, when someone such as Kelly drives over from Waffle House HQ to open up the place. What is corporate headquarters like? Kelly described a kind of NASA Mission Control with a large, digital map showing the location and live operational status of every Waffle House restaurant in the U.S. (which can be handy during hurricane season).

Will that map eventually wind up in the Waffle House Museum? "We're trying to make sure we save everything," said Kelly.

Waffle House Museum

2719 E. College Ave., Decatur, GA
East edge of the city, on the south side of US Hwy 278/E. College Ave., a block east of its intersection with Arcadia Ave.
W-Th by appt. Call at least 1 wk in advance. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Walmart MausoleumWalmart Mausoleum, Decatur, GA - 1 mi.
Mechanical Riverfront Kingdom and Commuter GalleryMechanical Riverfront Kingdom and Commuter Gallery, Decatur, GA - 3 mi.
Druid HillDruid Hill, Decatur, GA - 3 mi.
In the region:
Worlds of Puppetry Museum, Atlanta, GA - 6 mi.

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