ATLANTA - Waffle House Co-Founder Joseph "Joe" Wilson Rogers, Sr., passed away Friday evening at the age of 97, the chain announced Monday.
A memorial service and celebration of life will be held Wednesday, March 8, at 1:30 p.m. at the Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Center, 800 Spring Street, NW, Atlanta, GA 30308.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Giving Kitchen, which provides assistance to Atlanta area restaurant workers (thegivingkitchen.org), or the Ida Cason Callaway Foundation (callawaygardens.com).
On Labor Day in 1955, Joe Rogers Sr. and his neighbor, Tom Forkner, now 99-years-old, opened the first Waffle House restaurant in Avondale Estates, Georgia. Known for providing the “friendliest service in town,” the chain quickly grew to include more than 40,000 associates across the country.
"We're not in the restaurant business," Joe Rogers, Sr. would say. "We're in the people business."
Rogers' legacy of customer service and taking care of people continued until the 1970s when he stepped out of the day-to-day running of the business.
"My father genuinely loved every customer who walked into a Waffle House, and customers immediately understood that," said Rogers' son, Joe Rogers, Jr., Chairman of Waffle House, Inc. "The customer always came first for him, and he made sure the customer came first for everyone who worked with him."
While Rogers was not actively running the restaurants, his legacy of customer service pressed on. Up until just a few years ago, Rogers still came into the Norcross, GA office to check in on the business and offer encouragement to the Waffle House associates.
"My daddy had taught me always to smile at people and always to make people happy to see me," Rogers wrote in his autobiography, "Who's Looking Out for The Poor Old Cash Customer?" Rogers continued, "I didn't know any other way to approach a person, especially a customer."
Rogers, Sr. is survived by his beloved wife of 74 years, Ruth Jolley Rogers, daughters Dianne Tuggle (Bob) of Monument, CO, Deborah (Kari Vega) Rogers of Santa Rosa, CA, and sons Joe W. Rogers, Jr. (Fran) of Atlanta and Frank Rogers (Debra) of Fountain Hills, AZ. Also surviving are nine grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.