Sad news for the restaurant world today: Tom Forkner, the founder of iconic all-night diner chain Waffle House, died on Thursday at the age of 98. Forkner’s death follows quickly on the heels of that of his co-founder, Joe Rogers Sr., who died back in March at 97.
Forker and Rogers Sr., who were neighbors, opened the very first Waffle House in Avondale Estates, Georgia, in 1955, deciding on the Waffle House moniker because waffles were the highest-margin items on the menu. Following rapid growth in the ’70s and ’80s, the 24-hour restaurant now has close to 2,000 locations throughout the Southern United States where inexpensive breakfasts and other comfort food is prepared to order right in front of customers — including the famous hash browns, available scattered, smothered, covered, chunked, and any number of other ways.
Besides being beloved in the communities where its restaurants reside, Waffle House also has a loyal following among big-name chefs and food writers; Bon Appetit’s Andrew Knowlton once did a stunt where he worked as a cook at a Waffle House for 24 hours straight. The chain also has a reputation of being a magnet for strange criminal activity.
Waffle House is a privately held company, and Rogers’s son, Joe Rogers Jr., is now the chairman. “Tom will be remembered as a man of honesty and integrity,” Rogers Jr. said via press release. “He and my father never envisioned the company would grow into what it is today, nor how thousands of associates would be positively impacted by the opening of that first restaurant.”