There was a small gang of us gathered this morning at one of the local Waffle House outlets. Normally, our group takes its Thursday morning meal at Panera, but several of us had dined there the previous evening, and so it was that we collectively decided to mix up the week’s Breakfasty Schedule a bit.
It’s easy enough to make fun of Waffle House, AKA the “Awful Waffle.” It’s nothing fancy, not by a long shot, and it’s about as culturally and ethnically distant from the Local Bagel and Smoked Fish Emporium as it is possible to get. Not to mention that the waitstaff seem to have had their dental care farmed out to the British National Board of Dentistry.
(Q: What has eight feet and twelve teeth? A: The night shift at Waffle House.)
The servers are always friendly, and not in that phony “Hi, my name is Chad and I’ll be your server this morning” way. The coffee may not be Sumatran cat-crap roast, or Irish Cream mochaccino latte with skim milk and a caramel drizzle, but it’s straightforward, honest, and palatable. And, while I don’t generally order the waffles – they’re tasty enough, but I don’t need the carbs and calories – the eggs I do get are cracked fresh, not squirted out of a big old tank. All in all, a perfectly good place to grab the first meal of the day.
Houston Steve joined us today, and we could tell right away that he was a relative newcomer to the Casa del Waffle… because the first words out of his mouth when the server showed up were, “Do you have pancakes?”
There were perhaps fifteen people there in that Waffle House, and you could practically hear the “whoosh” of fifteen swiveling heads as they snapped around to see just who it was had uttered the P-Word in the sacred precincts of the Waffle.
“Jeezus, Steve!” we exclaimed simultaneously, sotto voce, through clenched teeth. “You don’t say the P-Word around here!” It is a lèse majesté on a par with dropping the F-bomb in church.
There’s a reason for this.
Some of us are old enough to remember the bitter Pancake-Waffle Wars of the late 1950s, as Waffle House and IHOP – the International House of Pancakes – duked it out for control of the Breakfast Cake business in North America. Waffle House had a three-year head start, expanding outward from its original base in the Atlanta, Georgia area starting in 1955, but IHOP, headquartered in California, was an up-and-coming aggressor. It was inevitable that the two would clash as their spheres of influence expanded.
The problem, of course, was that each outfit offered both pancakes and waffles.
Those were scary years. As the respective organizations “went to the griddles,” the conflict escalated into outright violence. Line cooks wore bulletproof aprons – not that it did much good. The bodies of several veteran pancakemen were found in dumpsters with waffle-iron gridmarks seared into their faces, while numerous experienced wafflers met unfortunate ends with spatulas lodged in various body orifices. The streets ran with syrup.
It was only after three years of almost uninterrupted violence that the heads of the two organizations sat down together at breakfast in neutral territory – a Dunkin’ Donuts shop in Apalachin, New York – to hammer out a compromise, a modus vivendi. As part of their agreement, the International House of Pancakes would henceforth offer only pancakes; the Waffle House only waffles.
Much as the threat of Mutual Assured Destruction helped to prevent the Cold War from going nuclear (despite a few close calls), the delicate Waffle-Pancake Balance has held for almost fifty years. For all our sakes, let us hope it continues to do so.