The sounds you hear in a Waffle House during the morning rush are unique. They’re less like noise and more like a symphony of quick call orders and diner jargon.
“Pull one chicken.”
“Drop one hash brown scattered.”
“Good morning, Gary.”
Waffle House #1543
Where: 509 Dawsonville Highway, Gainesville
Hours: 24/7More info: 770-534-2786 or locations.wafflehouse.com/gainesville-ga-1543
On the crew at Waffle House #1543 on Dawsonville Highway are six women that have made the popular 24-hour restaurant feel like the kitchen at your favorite relative’s house.
Tracy Brady, Connie Chavez, Lisa Jones, Jennifer Kendrick, Anne Palomino and Jordan Renfroe have worked together for various lengths of time and, during that period, have created a home away from home for both the customers and for themselves.
According to the staff, the friendly chatter most mornings is part of the reason why the familiar faces of customers keep coming back. The feeling is mutual, it seems, as all of the women counted the customers as one reason why they have worked at Store #1543 as long as they have.
“Our priority is our customers and we want to make them feel special,” Jones, 58, the most senior member of the crew, explained. “It’s the customers that make this Waffle House so special.”
“We treat people like family; it’s just what we do,” Kendrick, a unit manager at the store for nearly three years, said of the mutually agreed upon customer protocol.
“They know us and we know them,” said Palomino, who has worked at the store for seven years and with the company for 24. “They listen to us and we listen to them. We like to joke around and have a good old time with our customers.”
For some customers, there isn’t much that needs to be said when they make their way to their seats, according to Brady, who started her first shift for the company in 1981.
“With a lot of our customers, we know what they are going to have before they even sit down,” Brady said.
Waffle House management has taken notice and is fully aware there’s something special about the team assembled at Store #1543.
“Anytime you have long-term associates that work together as long as some of these ladies have, it makes our service that much better,” Waffle House Senior Vice President Darren Jarrett, a 29-year veteran with the company, said. “From a service standpoint, they just flow together.”
A familiar face
There’s a black-and-white photo of a young woman with a bright smile, blonde hair and a striped apron in every Waffle House in Georgia. Shot in the late 1970s, the image continues to be a company decorative staple in stores across the South.
Jones remembers that photo of herself fondly. She was just 13 years old when her picture was taken while working as a server in a Rockdale County Waffle House in 1977.
“I had a work permit from South Hall Junior High School,” Jones, a mother of two daughters, recalled.
During her 30-plus-year career at the Waffle House, minus the years she stepped away to be a stay-at-home mom, Jones has managed to earn the platinum server status for having served more than 200,000 customers and counting.
The company is a part of Jones’ family’s fabric. Her 76-year-old mother, Mary Pitts, has worked for the Waffle House since 1969, and still works at a store near her home in Cumming.
A family affair
Jones is not the only member of the crew with a parent, sibling or child that has worked or currently works at a Waffle House. It’s a familiar theme within the team at #1543. Kendrick and Palomino, whose name tag reads, “Sissy,” are sisters.
Three of Palomino’s five children work for the company, with a fourth, 14-year-old Pattie, hoping to follow suit someday.
“I want to experience meeting new people all the time,” she said, her wide smile identical to her mother’s.
Renfroe’s mother, who works at a Waffle House in Atlanta, brought her to work on Christmas Day 2009. That day, teenaged Renfroe got to work and has been clocking in ever since.
“I think I just washed dishes,” she said.
Renfroe has only been at Store #1543 for two years, but during that time has established herself as a customer favorite. Renfroe wears a gold name tag symbolizing the 100,000 customers he has served for the company.
“The first day at a new store is like the first day of school,” Renfroe said, “but they made me feel at home from the moment that I started working here.”
A sense of place
Chavez helped open Store #1543 in 2006 and hasn’t left since.
“Since the door opened,” Chavez said, adding there is a sense of both pride and ownership in knowing an establishment she helped get going remains as popular and well-run as ever.
“I take a lot of pride in this store and when things don’t go right, I take it to heart,” Chavez said between taking orders and exchanging small talk with the customers sitting at the counters or at the register paying their bill.
“I just have gotten to know the customers here — they are like family,” Chavez said.
As for Brady, though it may be hard for customers to visualize now, she was shy when she began her career at Waffle House. Her ex-husband recommended that she apply for a job at their local Waffle House in order to break out of her shell. Calling her orders to the cook helped her find her voice, she said.
“Waffle House was my first job after high school,” said Brady, who started working at an Atlanta-area location in 1981. “Now I am able to talk to people, (where) before I was so uncomfortable.”
She has worked off and on for the company for the past 40 years, but has worked at the Dawsonville Highway location for the past four.
“This store has been a home for me,” Brady said. “These ladies are fun to work with.”
According to Waffle House Region Manager Matt Lott, the longevity and experience of the staff are “the backbone” of the store.
“Waffle House has thousands of locations, but each store is its own store,” he said. “This store has a fair number of associates that have been here for years. The way they interact with each other and the customers and the relationships they have built are really important.”