BRACK: CBS-TV recognizes contributions of Waffle House founders

By Elliott Brack, editor and publisher  |  Last Sunday on the CBS television program with Jane Pauley, Sunday Morning, it made me feel proud to hear the names of two Gwinnettians mentioned among those who died during the past year. It was perhaps the first time on Sunday Morning that anyone from Gwinnett had been highlighted as among the significant persons who had passed away in the previous year.

Pauley said: “Joseph Rogers and Tom Forkner shared a dream — of waffles, served 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! They both died this year at 97, and 98.”

How fitting that these two pioneers in “Good food fast” were mentioned. The Waffle House chain that the two built has long been a well-accepted operation for many, mostly in the South. However, now Waffle House has expanded to 25 states, and has more than 1,800 similar yellow-signed locations well known to travelers, and locals alike. The company has more than 40,000 people on the company roles.

Waffle House has become a barometer of conditions in areas where there has to have major catastrophes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has its Waffle House Index, an informal metric to determine the likely scale of assistance required for disaster recovery.  The term was coined by FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate in May 2011, following the 2011 Joplin tornado, during which the two Waffle House restaurants in Joplin remained open. It is a barometer for how well an area will recover from a hurricane, tornado or other hazard.

Forkner, left, and Rogers. Photo via

Waffle House has a hurricane relief team ready to jump into an affected area with loaded trucks and move to help in times of significant weather events, or any other disruption. The team takes along its own generators to keep the restaurant open in case of no electricity.

Waffle House became this powerhouse company when those two guys, Joe Rogers Sr. and Tom Forkner, who early on recognized that they were not just in the food business, but in the people business. Their teams are a friendly, close-knit group intent on helping people. You get that feeling when you walk into their restaurants, and are greeted by the employees calling out a “Good morning!” to each customer.

With its iconic name, and known for being open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the company dishes out waffles, yes, but breakfast, lunch and dinner as well. It serves more T-bone steaks than any other group of food outlets.

Founded in 1955 in Avondale Estates, the two World War II veterans had their own area carved out to work in. Joe Rogers took care of the internal operations, while Forkner’s forte was selecting locations and handling construction. It wasn’t until 1999 that the two founders moved to more of an ambassador role in the company. However, both founders still kept their hand involved in the company up to near the time of their death.

They taught Waffle House executives to get out of their Norcross office, and spend most of the week visiting restaurants. Like the founders, when visiting these locations, the executive would find out if any staff member was absent and, if so, the executive would start washing  dishes, or cooking or busing tables to keep the operation smooth, fast and efficient.

Joe Rogers and Tom Forkner, long residents of Gwinnett, have left us with  tremendous legacy, and given particularly the South a symbol and formula for hard work and success. May they both rest in peace.