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Joe Rogers, Sr. is an American businessman. He is co-founder and former CEO of the Waffle House franchise restaurant chain, which began business in 1955 in Georgia, and has grown to over 1700 locations in 25 states.
A native of Tennessee, Rogers started in the restaurant business as a short-order cook in 1947, at the Toddle House in New Haven, Connecticut. By 1949, he had become a regional manager with the now-defunct Memphis-based restaurant chain, and moved to Atlanta. There he met Tom Forkner, when he bought a house from him in the Atlanta suburb of Avondale Estates.
Rogers, inspired by the emergence of fast food chains like McDonalds, proposed that he and Forkner go into business together for a quick-service, sit-down restaurant. Rogers' concept was to marry the speed of fast food with table service and around the clock availability. He told Forkner "...You build a restaurant and I’ll show you how to run it,"’ recalls Tom Forkner. Forkner suggested a Toddle House, but Rogers felt the chain wasn't proper for the market. After Forkner secured the property, the pair developed the concept of the Waffle House together; Forkner proposed the name, while Rogers suggested keeping a 24-hour schedule.
The first Waffle House opened on Labor Day weekend, 1955 at 2719 East College Avenue in Avondale Estates, Georgia. The restaurant was named after the most profitable item on the 16-item menu. The fragile nature of waffles also made the point that it was a dine-in, not a carry-out, restaurant, but it confused patrons as to meal availability other than breakfast.
Rogers continued to work with Toddle House, and to avoid conflict of interest sold his interest to Forkner in 1956. In 1960, when Rogers asked to buy into Toddle House, and they refused, he moved back to Atlanta and rejoined Waffle House, now a chain of three restaurants, to run restaurant operations. Shortly after Rogers returned full-time, Forkner followed suit and left Ben S. Forkner Realty.
After opening a fourth restaurant in 1960, the company began franchising its restaurants and slowly grew to 27 stores by the late 1960s, before growth accelerated. As of 2013, there were over 1700 locations in 25 states. The company is privately held and doesn’t disclose annual sales figures, but says they serve 2% of the eggs used in the nation's food service industry. The founders limit their involvement in management, Joe Rogers, Jr. is CEO, and Bert Thornton is President. The original founders, Rogers and Forkner, continue to own a majority of the company.