Waffle House Co-Founder Joe Rogers Sr. Dead at 97

Joe Rogers Sr., who co-founded the iconic all-night Waffle House diner in Avondale Estates in 1955, has died. He was 97.

Rogers, born in Tennessee in 1919, died Friday. He is survived by Ruth, his wife of 74 years, as well as four children, nine grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

He’s also survived by some 40,000 Waffle House employees across the country and countless loyal patrons.

“My father genuinely loved every customer who walked into a Waffle House, and customers immediately understood that,” Joe Rogers Jr., chairman of Waffle House, Inc., said in a news release. “The customer always came first for him, and he made sure the customer came first for everyone who worked with him.”

Rogers founded the restaurant chain with neighbor Tom Forkner while working for the Toddle House chain. The pair had met when Rogers bought a house from Forkner, who was in the real estate business.

They decided Avondale Estates needed a 24-hour restaurant. It launched on Labor Day 1955.

By 1961, the duo had four Waffle House locations, and Rogers joined the business full-time, helping expand it across the country.

Today there are more than 1,900 locations.

Rogers and Forkner phased themselves out of the day-to-day operations in the 1970s but still spent time at the corporate headquarters in Norcross even in their mid-80s.

Rogers still went in to the office up until a few years ago. Forkner is 99.

He also liked to stop by locations and get behind the counter or walk around chatting with customers.

"I'm not an executive, I'm a waffle cook," he said in a 2004 interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

A memorial service is set for Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center, 800 Spring Street NW in Atlanta. In lieu of flowers, Waffle House said contributions may be made to the Giving Kitchen, which helps Atlanta area restaurant workers, or the Ida Cason Callaway Foundation.

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