I was eager to attend the dedication of a historical marker at the original Waffle House in Avondale Estates this past weekend. I have been anxious to meet the two founders of Waffle House whose story I find inspiring. Waffle House was the first restaurant I ate at in the South when my husband and I drove from San Francisco to our new home in Tallahassee, Florida 23 years ago. Every time I spot the scrabble-like, yellow tiled Waffle House signs, a feeling of “coming house” washes over me. Among the many adoring fans, the founders Tom Forkner and Joe Rogers Sr. were in attendance at the dedication and they did not disappoint. These nonagenarians were charming, humorous and gracious.
As I photographed Tom and Joe autographing photographs for their fans, I took notice of Charlie Bettis looming over the table. He was an imposing character, well over 6 feet tall, cigar hanging out of his mouth, red suspenders and twinkling blue eyes. I felt like the paparazzi as I followed him around, dodging between the throngs of people, trying to isolate him through my viewfinder. I finally caught him sitting at a counter with a photograph of Tom and Joe standing behind him. I snapped a few frames before Charlie took notice of me and I put my camera down to speak with him. Before we parted he said, “I’m just an old goat with nothing else to do but come to places like this. I don’t drink or chase women and I don’t smoke cigars”. I have a feeling that Charlie is not idle. He owns Allsouth Construction in Decatur and is proud of the fact that he has been at the same location and has kept the same phone number for over 50 years.