This weekend an exhibit of images and texts called Southern Icons, A to Z opened in Pike County, Georgia. For each letter of the alphabet, the curators chose an icon. Numerous southern writers and artists were invited to participate and I count myself lucky to be among them. In my case, I was invited to participate by writing the text that accompanied a photograph by Tammy Mercure. We were given the letter “W” for Waffle House. Unfortunately, I cannot be there for the opening, but here is our entry:
Cultural icons, even a southern icon as familiar to the region as Waffle House, has a history. The restaurant, founded on a short order concept, first opened in 1955 in Avondale Estates, a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. The idea behind the restaurant was simple: provide good food quickly, especially a great breakfast waffle, and provide friendly customer service—a dollop of southern hospitality, if you will. Add a jukebox and a menu that offered customers a bang for their buck and the result was rapid success.
Yet what often makes a restaurant a cultural icon is its brand, in this case, the Waffle House sign. Using yellow glass blocks that spell out W A F F L E
H O U S E in large black letters, the sign beckons customers day and night. As Tammy Mercure’s photograph illustrates, its power is in its simplicity. For many, it signals a nostalgic memory of their youth—food after a football game or the 3 a.m. munchies following a night of revelry. And for so many more, it has come to symbolize a shared experience around food, in a familiar setting, that transcends race, class, and generation.