NPR logo Waffle House Co-Founder Joe Rogers Sr. Dies At 97

America

Waffle House Co-Founder Joe Rogers Sr. Dies At 97

Waffle House founders Joe Rogers Sr. (left) and Tom Forkner pose in front of a Waffle House restaurant in Norcross, Ga., after eating lunch there 2005. Ric Feld/AP hide caption

toggle caption
Ric Feld/AP

Waffle House founders Joe Rogers Sr. (left) and Tom Forkner pose in front of a Waffle House restaurant in Norcross, Ga., after eating lunch there 2005.

Ric Feld/AP

Joe Rogers Sr. and Tom Forkner opened their first Waffle House in Avondale Estates, Ga., on Labor Day in 1955.

Rogers died on Friday at the age of 97. Forkner is 99 years old.

When the two met, Rogers worked for the Toddle House restaurant chain and Forkner worked in real estate.

Forkner was the businessman in the partnership that produced the all-night diner chain, and Rogers was the people person — a champion for customers and employees.

The yellow Waffle House sign has become a familiar landmark along roadways in the Southeast.

Rogers was often heard to say, "We're not in the restaurant business, we're in the people business."

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:

"Rogers and Forkner phased themselves out of the day-to-day operations in the late 1970s.

"They still spent time at the corporate headquarters in Norcross even in their mid-80s.

"Rogers went in up until a few years ago."

There are now 1,900 restaurants in the chain and approximately 40,000 employees.

Joe Rogers Jr. said in a statement, "They never envisioned the financial success shared by so many of their associates 61 years later."

In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Rogers Sr. said, "I'm not an executive, I'm a waffle cook."

In his autobiography — Who's Looking Out for the Poor Old Cash Customer? — Joe Rogers Sr. wrote, ""My daddy had taught me always to smile at people and always to make people happy to see me."