Restaurants for the People

Personal Writings

             Marble Falls      We have a meeting next week in central Ohio to talk about voter suppression.  We’re doing a training the next day in Cleveland, but we’ll be gathering before that in a small town 30-odd miles out of Columbus.  Where will we meet?  It’ll be the Waffle House, and why not?

Waffle House was the only place we could find near the airport in Cincinnati when we were getting ready to leave after visiting with people who were trapped in a predatory housing scheme there.  Along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi after the ravishes of Katrina, Waffle House opened its stores first and most frequently.  There’s a stretch along the beach between Biloxi and Gulfport where they are dotted along the highway every mile-and-a-half or so.

The chairmen of the privately-held Waffle House chain of 1800 locations described his operation simply: “We’re a melting pot, we’re a meeting place, and we’re here to serve the public.”  Mainly, their operations are in the South, but Waffle Houses and other sit-down chain restaurants serve similar purposes around the country.

           Researchers looking at mobile data tracked where millions of Americans spend their time.  By matching “people’s movements to socio-economic data on where they live, they were able to see where rich and poor mingle.  Sit-down chain restaurants, like Olive Garden, Chili’s and Applebee’s, top the list.  They bring Americans together more than any other private or public institution – eclipsing bars, churches, gas stations, libraries, parks, and schools.”  As Americans become more isolated by class, given the widening economic gap in our society, maybe these kinds of places should be taken more seriously.

Does that make Waffle House a melting pot?  I’m not sure about that. Or are they one of these “third spaces” that were once touted so broadly?  I doubt it.  Having stopped by them off and on for just about forever, I don’t think it’s likely that more than a smattering of BMWs and Mercedes-Benz that show up in their parking lots, except it places like Marysville, Ohio.  Waffle House is a mecca for breakfast anytime for working and lower income families.  I don’t know if vegan is a concept that they even recognize.

If we tell the truth, almost all of us have some places like this that are our regular haunts whenever we get a chance, and if they serve breakfast 24-hours a day, there’s a magnet pulling us through the door.  The Times noted that:

Roughly 17 percent of all chain restaurant revenue in the country is derived from companies that specialize in pancakes, waffles, omelets, French toast and other breakfast items, according to IBISWorld, a market research firm.

Thinking about it, as I sit here in the Ozarks, Google tells me that the nearest Waffle Houses to me are all 50 miles away.  No matter, when I’m by myself traveling near Harrison, Arkansas in the Ozarks, I find a booth at B’s Spot and order my standard, the meaty-omelet with hash browns and the biscuit with no gravy for less than ten dollars anytime they are open.

If you haven’t been there, you’re missing something great.  I’m looking forward to seeing what’s new at the Waffle House next week in Ohio.  I’ve been there before, and it was packed!  We need more places where everyone can feel welcome and treated the same.