Well into its seventh decade of existence, the American institution Waffle House sports more than 2,100 locations across 25 of these United States, all of them open practically all the time and all of them looking practically alike. For those intimately familiar with the chain, its design, a simple rectangular box topped with yellow signage is ubiquitous. But it turns out there’s an interesting reason why almost every location looks kind of like a shoebox.
Where McDonald's and Burger King often spring for upscale, "PlayPlace," or otherwise altered versions of their fast-food foundations, Waffle House's architecture rarely changes from place to place, and when it is different, it's a big deal.
The reason for that is pretty simple, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Waffle House's iconically elongated "shoebox" design, introduced in the chain's sixth location, was chosen to better handle local 1960s real estate regulations that used store front size -- not square footage -- to calculate land costs and taxes owed.
“[The founders and designers] went with a shoebox design that turned, so we could get a more narrow lot,” said Pat Warner, a Waffle House spokesman.
That sixth location opened in Atlanta in November 1961, was designed by Paul Schulte to be a rectangle with a pitched roof, while the next location was designed by architect Clifford Nahser, who followed it up with a flat roof for the seventh restaurant. He's also been credited with integrating the chain's yellow color scheme more fully into the store, incorporating it into not just the design of the building but the signage and its overall presentation. It opened in 1962 and the chain's restaurants have mostly retained the look ever since, with the exception of a new, fancier location with a wrought-iron fence and a courtyard popping up in New Orleans.
But it was the original that made the impression in the half-century that followed and remains burned in the minds of its devoted customers. Even that New Orleans location, when it opened up, wasn't so fancy, according to local critics. As Todd A. Price of the New Orleans Times-Picayune wrote when it opened: "The inside could be any Waffle House in America, complete with stools, big laminated yellow menus and a jukebox packed with breakfast-themed tunes."
The best memories stay the same.