The Waffle House co-founder who put the customer first
Joe Rogers 1919–2017
Joe Rogers had a simple philosophy for Waffle House, the restaurant chain he cofounded in 1955. “We are not in the food business,” he said. “We are in the people business.” As well as serving up Southern-style breakfasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Rogers insisted that staff offer Southern-style hospitality. “I’ve walked into restaurants where workers are on the telephone calling, looking for an elderly customer who hadn’t been in in a while,” said his son, Joe Jr., the company’s CEO. That approach helped the business thrive—it now has nearly 1,800 outlets across the U.S. and annual sales of more than $1 billion. “Our job,” said Rogers, “is to make people feel better because they ate with us.”
Born in Jackson, Tenn., Rogers “served as a flight instructor during World War II and worked in restaurants after the war,” said Bloomberg.com. In the 1950s, he persuaded a real estate broker friend in Atlanta to go into business with him. “You build a restaurant,” he told him, “and I’ll show you how to run it.” The business steadily expanded, attracting “truckers, late-night revelers, and Sunday churchgoers.” Today, the Federal Emergency Management Agency uses the company to gauge damage levels after natural disasters—if the local Waffle House is closed, it probably means the area has no power or water.
Rogers “remained involved with Waffle House into at least his late 80s,” said The New York Times. Some days he would be in the company headquarters; others he would “show up at restaurants and mix with the customers.” Besides good service, Rogers always advocated keeping the menu simple. “We serve the basic foods,” he explained, “and the basic foods never change.”