I remember the first time I ever stepped into a Waffle House. It was a few years ago, when I was making a long car trip down the East Coast. I had spent the night before in a motel in North Carolina and woke up hungry. Waffle House immediately caught my eye and I dragged my sleepy family inside at the promise of waffles and syrup.
We weren't disappointed. Waffle House has been around since 1955 and is a staple of the Southern United States. When you're inside a Waffle House, you're greeted with the chatter of people over coffee, the smell of bacon on the grill, and plates piled high with fluffy waffles. It's heaven, especially after a long trip.
But even if you're familiar with Waffle House, there may be something you don't know about it. For instance, not only do they make great waffles, but Waffle House also runs a record label.
In the 1980s, Waffle House decided to embark on a new venture. They called it Waffle Records, and their aim was to create music that captured the atmosphere of the Waffle House, without sounding too much like a commercial. They wanted mood music for breakfast.
Joe Rogers was the co-founder of Waffle House and the driving force behind the record label. He really sought to make going to Waffle House an experience, and felt that music would help achieve that. From the start, it was imperative to him that what he produced did not sound like a jingle or a marketing ploy. Even if they were never going to be hits, Rogers wanted his music to be music.
A few months ago, NPR did an interview with Shelby White, who heads Waffle Records. While Waffle House songs only make up 1 percent of national plays, according to NPR, they try to appeal to everyone. There are songs across all genres, from Gospel to Rock and R&B.
Waffle House songs make their home in the vintage-looking jukeboxes that make up part of the Waffle House's décor. The tunes have fun names like, "They're Cooking Up My Order", and "Waffle House Hash Browns (I Love You)", and they try to capture the environment and experience of the iconic roadside eatery.
Bringing music to the restaurants once meant cutting traditional vinyl records for each jukebox. Nowadays, the process has become digital, and much easier. Waffle Records 45s have become something of a collector's item for those looking to add something truly unique.
After thirty years of business, Waffle Records is still chugging along and producing records. It's hard to say how profitable this venture is for the company, but it's never been about sales or marketing. Waffle Records is about making music and making people smile.