Scandals Waffle House Can Never Live Down

The late, great Anthony Bourdain once described Waffle House as "an irony-free zone where everything is beautiful and nothing hurts. Where everybody, regardless of race, creed, color, or degree of inebriation is welcomed. Its warm yellow glow, a beacon of hope and salvation, inviting the hungry, the lost, the seriously hammered, all across the South, to come inside. A place of safety and nourishment. It never closes, it is always, always faithful, always there for you."

You'd be forgiven for thinking Bourdain was referring to Shangri-La rather than an establishment that hawks waffles to tipsy customers at 3 a.m. But based on this praise, it's difficult to imagine a place described in such glowing terms could have a dark side, one that doesn't espouse the same virtues of "safety," "hope," and "salvation" as the famed chef described. Difficult, but not impossible, because for all its delicious glory, more than a few unflattering scandals have been permanently etched into Waffle House's history book. They range from the most serious to the most bizarre, but either way, they are scandals Waffle House can never seem to live down.

Waffle House's CEO had a sex scandal

Waffle House's list of notable scandals goes all the way to the top of the company. In 2012, company CEO Joseph W. Rogers found himself embroiled in a sex scandal when Mye Brindle, his former personal assistant, accused the executive of sexual harassment and assault (via VICE). In a statement to police, Brindle claimed that the behavior went on for nearly a decade and that she only endured "the harassment and demeaning treatment by Rogers because she was a single mother and needed her job to support herself and her son." Rogers, meanwhile, claimed that their relationship was consensual. Both sides sued each other. Then things got strange.

It turns out that Brindle had filmed 17 of their encounters to prove her story and had done so at the request of her two attorneys. But under state law in Georgia, where this all took place, all parties need to give consent to be recorded. Criminal charges were filed against the three and the case went all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court, which acquitted the trio of any wrongdoing.

A civil case accusing Brindle of extortion and invading her ex-boss' privacy went to trial the following year — but it was essentially over before it began. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, just 20 minutes after Rogers' attorney completed his opening statement, both sides announced they had reached a confidential settlement. The case was finally put to rest six years after it began.

Waffle House employees have repeatedly been accused of racial discrimination

Waffle House has and always will be a Southern restaurant, and while the region's traditions are largely responsible for the chain's culinary prowess, they may also be the cause of a dark truth about the eatery: Waffle House has had dozens of complaints of racial discrimination filed against it. In fact, an essay published in the 2013 book "The Larder: Food Studies Methods from the American South," found that more than 20 such cases had been filed since the 1990s (via Eater).

The problems have only continued since then. Making matters worse for Waffle House is the fact that it's not usually customers at the root of the problem but, instead, it's their own employees. In 2018, a Black woman claimed an Alabama Waffle House locked its doors and refused to let her inside to eat. "They have the door locked and they have customers in here, and they're saying that they're closed," the woman says in a video she filmed of the incident. "The customers are eating and they happen to be white customers, and I am an African-American ...They have people that they're serving but they're telling me that they're closed." Just last year, a Hispanic family claimed they were cursed at and insulted by a Georgia Waffle House manager and had their takeout order filled with trash. Although their case was dismissed, Waffle House did agree to a settlement.

Waffle House has been the site of several racially charged arrests

The alleged racist environment at Waffle House extends beyond the breakfast house's employees. In recent years, the restaurant chain has been the site of numerous racially charged arrests. In just a three-month span in 2018, for instance, at least three such incidents put Waffle House under fire. In April, three white Alabama police officers were filmed throwing a Black woman to the ground and threatening to break her arm while putting her under arrest. The very next month, a white police officer choked and handcuffed a Black man outside a Waffle House in North Carolina. Then in June, two Black customers had the police called on them after a dispute over just 50 cents, according to Eater. Although the pair ultimately wasn't charged with a crime, they were handcuffed at the restaurant.

These events led many to call for a boycott of Waffle House. One prominent name that did so was Beatrice A. King, daughter of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. "Family, let's stay out of @WaffleHouse," she posted on Twitter, "until the corporate office legitimately and seriously commits to 1) discussion on racism, 2) employee training, and 3) other plans to change; and until they start to implement changes."

Employees have accused Waffle House of illegal labor practices

Waffle House employees haven't solely been accused of wrong behavior, they've also been the accusers. And those accusations have been directed squarely at their employer.

There have been numerous labor-related allegations levied against Waffle House over the years, ranging from discrimination to creating hostile work environments. Way back in 1983, a white female sued the breakfast chain, alleging that she had been fired from her job because she was married to a Black man. In 2009, several servers at a Nashville Waffle House claimed a cook who was in charge of their shift had sexually harassed them. Complaints made to their managers were reportedly ignored. After the women filed suit, the restaurant was forced to pay them a total of $45,000. More recently, Waffle House came under fire for supposedly withholding employee pay. In 2018, a collective action lawsuit was filed in Florida, alleging that Waffle House cooks were improperly paid overtime, a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

It's not just employees accusing Waffle House, it's also people just looking for employment. In 2015, a Florida man sued the chain when it denied his application after unfairly using a background check, according to LegalNewsline. The man claimed that Waffle House never informed him they would be running a background check, nor did it provide him with a copy of the report. Such practices violate the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

The Kid Rock incident

Celebrities are not immune to the rapturous culinary delights of the Waffle House. The restaurant is a known favorite of such celebrities as Dwayne Johnson, Chrissy Teigen, Bruno Mars, Carrie Underwood, and Justin Beiber, to name a few. As we mentioned, the chain got a rave review from Anthony Bourdain, who confirmed that the restaurant "is indeed marvelous," when visiting during the filming of his television show "Parts Unknown."

Typically, famous faces filling the seats of a business is a welcome publicity boost. But Kid Rock is not a typical celebrity, and his 2007 trip to a Georgia Waffle House was not one the restaurant would like to remember. The musician was arrested on charges of misdemeanor battery after he and five other members of the group he was with allegedly assaulted a man at a Waffle House. While Kid Rock claimed he never physically assaulted the man, he ultimately pleaded no contest to one count of simple battery and was sentenced to a year of probation and fined $1,000.

The scandal wasn't a complete loss for Waffle House, however. To help make things right, the rocker returned to the area to join Waffle House for a charity event raising money for homeless families in the metro Atlanta area. "The first situation was silly," he told People Magazine. "We got so much press from the last incident that we decided to not let it lay where was and turn it into something good."

Waffle House was the site of a mass shooting

At around 3:30 a.m. on April 22, 2018, 29-year-old Travis Reinking fatally shot four people at a Nashville area Waffle House with an assault rifle. As horrific as the incident was, it could have ended far worse if not for the heroic actions of another diner in the restaurant. James Shaw Jr. was eating at the Waffle House with a friend when the shooting started. When Reinking paused, Shaw charged at him and was able to wrestle the weapon away. Reinking then fled on foot but was eventually apprehended and arrested the following day.

Reinking has never given a reason for his actions or why he chose the Waffle House. A mental evaluation a few months after the shooting found him to be schizophrenic and not competent to stand trial. He had previously been arrested for trespassing near the White House, and during a delusional episode told responders that he believed Taylor Swift was stalking him.

Although this dark event is no fault of Waffle House, it still is a blight on the restaurant's reputation, especially considering that the case has yet to be put to rest. The case against Reinking was stalled while he was being treated at the Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute. As such, the trial will not begin until February 2022, at which point Waffle House will be in the news again, for all the wrong reasons.

Other deadly shootings have occurred at Waffle House

Unfortunately, the deadly Tennessee shooting is far from the only such tragedy that has occurred at a Waffle House restaurant. In fact, they appear to be happening more often. During a roughly one-month span in 2021, for example, there were several fatal shootings at Waffle House establishments across the country.

On June 1, a man was shot and killed at a Waffle House in South Carolina after an altercation with a fellow diner. A few weeks later, two 19-year-olds were shot outside a Lafayette, Louisiana Waffle House. One of the victims, an employee, died on the scene while the other passed away at the hospital. On the Fourth of July, yet another man was killed at a Louisiana Waffle House, this one in Hammond. These violent acts are in addition to the non-fatal shootings that occurred at Waffle Houses in June and July, including one in Florida and another in Georgia.

To make matters worse for Waffle House, some of its employees have been the ones involved in the shootings that have occurred at the restaurant. In 2014, a Georgia Waffle House customer was killed by an employee following an argument. After being threatened, the employee "retrieved a weapon and fired upon the customer," according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. On New Year's Day 2018, a security guard working at a Missouri Waffle House mistakenly shot and killed a patron during a melee.

Waffle House has been home to countless bizarre crimes

Waffle House is known for many impressive things — its inexpensive breakfast, 24/7 business model, and unique slang all come to mind. But one unflattering thing the chain has garnered a reputation for is being the site of some of the strangest crimes you'll ever hear about. A small sampling of such incidents begins in 2011, when a man purposefully drove his truck into a Florida Waffle House in order to hurt his wife, who worked there as a waitress. 

Speaking of waitresses, the following year a Waffle House waitress in Beaufort, South Carolina hit a customer in the head with a coffee pot during an argument. She was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery. Another notorious employee-customer interaction occurred in 2015 when a sweet-toothed diner in Albuquerque, New Mexico pulled a knife on a Waffle House employee when he was told the restaurant's pies were not available because they were frozen.

Early 2016 was a banner period for the Waffle House police blotter. In January, an angry Waffle House customer in Atlanta stripped naked, punched and broke another diner's nose, and threw plates of food at people, according to Rolling Out. Georgia was the site of yet another truly dark and bizarre Waffle House crime just a month later. That's when an employee was charged with spiking her co-worker's drink with meth. The victim's family claimed he was in a coma for four weeks and unable to walk following the incident.

Waffle House came under fire for its treatment of employees during the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the restaurant industry and forced many companies to close stores, cut salaries, and lay off employees. Waffle House was no different. Nationwide sales dropped 70% at the peak of the pandemic, Njeri Boss, the chain's director of public relations, told Business Insider, adding that roughly 700 of Waffle House's 2,000 stores closed.

But according to many of its employees, Waffle House caused more harm than it needed to. Eater reported that Waffle House employees were paid anywhere from $1 to $3 less per hour while simultaneously assigned more work. In addition to their regular responsibilities as a server or chef, as well as normal cleaning duties, employees had to sanitize surfaces every hour. Essentially, employees were expected to do more work for less pay. Furthermore, the chain stopped offering bonuses, vacation pay, and maternity leave. It also refused to offer hourly workers any paid sick leave.

This added up to employees feeling betrayed by a company whose founding principle is, "We aren't in the food business. We're in the people business." All at a time when they most needed help, nonetheless. "They are slicing the people that are keeping this open down to the dirt," one Waffle House employee told Eater. "I understand you're trying to run a business, but we're the ones running it for you. We're down there making this money for your family."