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Architecture + Branding: Modern design movement increasingly challenging the pleasantly simple Waffle House aesthetic

1-Southern charm

Almost everyone who has travelled the roads of the American South has come across a Waffle House restaurant. Revered by its faithful, featured in Hollywood movies, referenced in popular music, WaHo is a regional cultural icon. Yet, although the brand has a presence in the northern states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, and Arizona in the Southwest, Waffle House is quite commonly referred to as a South Eastern United States phenomenon.

WHI - Waffle House 2719 East College Avenue Avondale Estates GA

Waffle House, front 3/4 view, 2719 East College Avenue, Avondale Estates (Decatur), Georgia (source: atlantatimemachine.com)

Since opening their doors in 1955, the restaurant has grown from a single location in Avondale Estates (Decatur), GA, into a behemoth of more than 2,100 locations spread across 25 states (source: wafflehouse.com, sacurrent.com, huffingtonpost.com). Open 24 hours a day, Waffle House operates largely under a simple credo where all are welcome at all hours of the day or night.

WHI - Waffle House 2730 East College Avenue Avondeal Estates GA 2 2008 https___www.google

Waffle House (circa 2008), front 3/4 view, 2719 East College Avenue, Avondale Estates, (Decatur), Georgia (source: maps.google.com)

And through the decades, having morphed and mutated as the brand spread, Waffle House restaurants have nonetheless managed to retain a familial look, and design, while retaining a spiritual link to the original location.

2-Asymmetric rectangle

In the years that followed the first restaurant opening, co-founder Joe Rogers Sr. commissioned architect Clifford Nahser to help design new restaurants from the prototype diner at Avondale Estates (source: ajc.com). With limited tweaks and updates over the years, Nasher would go on to help design hundreds of Waffle House restaurants, largely from the same basic plan (source: ajc.com).

DSC07592 WHI - Waffle House 8915 South Carolina 6 Santee SC

Waffle House, front 3/4 view, 8915 South Carolina 6, Santee, South Carolina

Squat, rectangular, boxy, and linear, the minimalist building has since become intertwined and synonymous with Waffle House.

Asymmetric, the building displays a four distinct faces, as it telegraphs the front of house/back of house divide inside the restaurant.

WHI - Waffle House 629 Woodbury Highway Manchester TN 6 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 629 Woodbury Highway, Manchester, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Although not the principal entrance, the front of the building is typically a narrow end of the rectangle, with glazing spread across the face.

WHI - Waffle House 69 Expressway Drive Manchester TN 4 https___www.google

Waffle House, front 3/4 view, 69 Expressway Drive, Manchester, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 6840 East Front Street Kansas City MO 5 https___www.google

Waffle House, front view, 6840 East Front Street, Kansas City, Missouri (source: maps.google.com)

The arrival/entrance side of the building is clad in glass from the front rearwards. The composition becomes more opaque towards the rear of the building as the interior spaces skew away from patron towards employee/restaurant functions.

WHI - Waffle House 6840 East Front Street Kansas City MO 2 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 6840 East Front Street, Kansas City, Missouri (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 3606 Franklin Road SW Roanoke VA 5 https___www.google

Waffle House, front 3/4 view, 3606 Franklin Road SW, Roanoke, Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

At times, the entrance may feature an enclosed vestibule along the arrival side. Alternatively, a vestibule does not seem a prerequisite in the overall design.

WHI - Waffle House 105 Rushing Road East Denham Springs LA 3 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 105 Rushing Road East, Denham Springs, Louisiana (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 3909 Hillsborough Street Raleigh NC 6 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 3909 Hillsborough Street, Raleigh,  North Carolina (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 1500 NW Woods Chapel Road Blue Springs MO 2 https___www.google

Waffle House, front 3/4 view, 1500 NW Woods Chapel Road, Blue Springs, Missouri (source: maps.google.com)

The rear of the building is typically of equal width to the front. However, the elevation is devoid of any adornment or embellishment, as receiving, deliveries and trash are the primary activities at this end of the building.

DSC07590 WHI - Waffle House 8915 South Carolina 6 Santee SC

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 8915 South Carolina 6, Santee, South Carolina

The non-arrival side of the building is equally devoid of embellishment. Windows are a fraction of those on the arrival/entrance side. Additionally, often abutting the adjacent property or the property line, this particular face remains largely unseen, and neglected from a design standpoint.

WHI - Waffle House 69 Expressway Drive Manchester TN 7 https___www.google

Waffle House, side view, 69 Expressway Drive, Manchester, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 13612 Crayton Blvd Hagerstown MD 3 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 13612 Crayton Blvd, Hagerstown, Maryland (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 629 Woodbury Highway Manchester TN 3 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 629 Woodbury Highway, Manchester, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

The asymmetric design evident in the elevations and the window wrap is further reinforced at the parapet/wall head. The lemon yellow band across the top of the windows, along with red or red striped awnings, tend to mimic the window wrap and accentuate the arrival/public faces of the building.

WHI - Waffle House 1736 McCoy Road Orlando FL 3 https___www.google

Waffle House, front 3/4 view, 1736 McCoy Road, Orlando, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

The single slope (front to back) roof is concealed behind high parapet walls, and drains at the low point in the rear of the building.

WHI - Waffle House 1736 McCoy Road Orlando FL 4 https___www.google

Waffle House, rear 3/4 view, 1736 McCoy Road, Orlando, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

The exterior materials palette is limited, consisting substantially of concrete, brick, metal, aluminium, and glass.

Several locations feature banding elements to help add visual interest to the blank walls. Likewise, wainscots may also be utilized to add some visual drama.

WHI - Waffle House 4384 US Route 60 Huntington WV 3 https___www.google

Waffle House, front 3/4 view, 4384 US Route 60, Huntington, West Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 4384 US Route 60 Huntington WV 5 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 4384 US Route 60, Huntington, West Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

Brown, beige, tan, grey, black, yellow, and red succinctly round out the principal Waffle House material colours.

WHI - Waffle House 13612 Crayton Blvd Hagerstown MD 2 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 13612 Crayton Blvd, Hagerstown, Maryland (source: maps.google.com)

The basic design has served the brand handily over the years, imprinting its colloquial design, and black, yellow, and red colour scheme, into large swaths of the American populace.

3-The best defence is a good offense

Brands benefit from a multiplicity of impressions, with each additional imprint reinforcing a coherent and consistent message in promotional materials, and in design. However, incessantly pounding the message will seldom paper over poor product and sloppy execution. As a testament to its success, Waffle House has skillfully done both.

As such, through repetition, and adherence to a defensible, recognizable architectural identity and exterior aesthetic, Waffle House has enjoyed the luxury of moving into non-traditional locations, without necessarily diluting brand identity.

WHI - Waffle House 2107 North Post Road Indianapolis IN 3 https___www.google

Waffle House, front 3/4 view, 2107 North Post Road, Indianapolis, Indiana (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 2816 Watson Blvd Warner Robins GA 5 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 2816 Watson Blvd, Warner Robins, Georgia (source: maps.google.com)

However, going well beyond a new colour, layout, or material choice, several locations differ wildly from the typical restaurant.

WHI - Waffle House 1803 W Main Street League City TX 6 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 1803 W Main Street, League City, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 2363 College Drive Baton Rouge LA 5 https___www.google

Waffle House, front 3/4 view, 2363 College Drive, Baton Rouge, Louisiana (source: maps.google.com)

Understandably a minority within the brand portfolio, these particular locations nonetheless benefit from cognitive association with the more traditional Waffle House imagery and visual cues.

WHI - Waffle House 610 North Main Street Blacksburg VA 7 2009 TCBY https___www.google

TCBY (circa 2009), side view, 610 North Main Street, Blacksburg, Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 610 North Main Street Blacksburg VA 4 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 610 North Main Street, Blacksburg, Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 2665 W Jonathan Moore Pike Columbus IN 4 2011 https___www.google

Former BP gas station and convenience store (circa 2011), 2665 W Jonathan Moore Pike, Columbus, Indiana (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 2665 W Jonathan Moore Pike Columbus IN 3 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 2665 W Jonathan Moore Pike, Columbus, Indiana (source: maps.google.com)

Obviously willing to adopt another brand’s built form when the occasion arises, Waffle House nonetheless remains active in building new from the ground up purpose designed locations.

WHI - Waffle House 90 Oak Tree Blvd Christiansburg VA 4 https___www.google

Future Waffle House, 90 Oak Tree Blvd, Christiansburg, Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 90 Oak Tree Blvd Christiansburg VA 5 https___www.google

Waffle House, 90 Oak Tree Blvd, Christiansburg, Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

Yet, although the brand has shown a willingness to take over spaces not conforming to brand ideals, it staunchly prohibits its surplus properties from being utilized for a business purpose that may infringe, compete, or confuse customers with an active Waffle House restaurant.

4-Modern creep

Principally developing its built design environment from the same guiding principles and basic plan, Waffle House restaurants have long maintained common threads that go deeper than aesthetics.

WHI - Waffle House 203 Ambassador Caffery Parkway Scott LA 3 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 203 Ambassador Caffery Parkway, Scott, Louisiana (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 203 Ambassador Caffery Parkway Scott LA 6 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 203 Ambassador Caffery Parkway, Scott, Louisiana (source: maps.google.com)

20150528_145400 WHI - Waffle House 4601 Old Gentilly Road New Orleans LA

Waffle House, front 3/4 view, 4601 Old Gentilly Road, New Orleans, Louisiana

WHI - Waffle House 730 North Main Street Shelbyville TN 2 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 730 North Main Street, Shelbyville, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 730 North Main Street Shelbyville TN 7 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 730 North Main Street, Shelbyville, Tennessee (source: maps.google.com)

Designed from the inside out, Waffle House restaurants’ small footprint is inherently efficient, and a proverbial case of form follows function. As such, although at first glance the exterior design might seem barren, kitschy and simplistic, it can nonetheless be re-imagined and updated, without sacrificing the interior layout, circulation, and spatial optimization.

WHI - Waffle House 301 Madison Avenue Montgomery AL 3 https___www.google

Waffle House, front 3/4 view, 301 Madison Avenue, Montgomery, Alabama (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 301 Madison Avenue Montgomery AL 6 https___www.google

Waffle House, rear 3/4 view, 301 Madison Avenue, Montgomery, Alabama (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 708 Davis Street Scranton PA 4 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 708 Davis Street, Scranton, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 708 Davis Street Scranton PA 6 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 708 Davis Street, Scranton, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)

20150528_144823 WHI - Waffle House 11951 I-10 Service Road New Orleans LA

Waffle House, front 3/4 view, 11951 I-10 Service Road, New Orleans, Louisiana

Not just a collection of look-alike designs, Waffle House can adopt the local vernacular, and indeed exhibit some level of localization and sensibility to the adjacent architecture, neighbourhoods, and climate.

WHI - Waffle House 1831 South Country Club Drive Mesa AZ 6 https___www.google

Waffle House, front 3/4 view, 1831 South Country Club Drive, Mesa, Arizona (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 1831 South Country Club Drive Mesa AZ 3 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 1831 South Country Club Drive, Mesa, Arizona (source: maps.google.com)

Even when re-interpreting the asymmetrical plan to incorporate a particular roof style, different exterior materials, modified window sizes and daylight openings (DLOs), a wider colour palette, substantial articulation, larger footprints, or modern aesthetics, the essence of the Waffle House restaurant design can still be deciphered.

WHI - Waffle House 1168 Malabar Road SE Palm Bay FL 2 https___www.google

Waffle House, front 3/4 view, 1168 Malabar Road SE, Palm Bay, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 1405 North Cassady Avenue Columbus OH 4 https___www.google

Waffle House, front 3/4 view, 1405 North Cassady Avenue, Columbus, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 1943 Stanton Way Lexington KY 3 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 1943 Stanton Way, Lexington, Kentucky (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 4346 Fulton Industrial Blvd SW Atlanta GA 5 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 4346 Fulton Industrial Blvd SW, Atlanta, Georgia (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 3040 Lakecrest Circle Lexington KY 3 https___www.google

Waffle House, front 3/4 view, 3040 Lakecrest Circle, Lexington, Kentucky (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 1500 Conowingo Road Bel Air MD 2 https___www.google

Waffle House, front 3/4 view, 1500 Conowingo Road, Bel Air, Maryland (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 1500 Conowingo Road Bel Air MD 3 https___www.google

Waffle House, rear 3/4 view, 1500 Conowingo Road, Bel Air, Maryland (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 1783 Airport Road Allentown PA 2 https___www.google

Waffle House, front 3/4 view, 1783 Airport Road, Allentown, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 1783 Airport Road Allentown PA 5 https___www.google

Waffle House, rear 3/4 view, 1783 Airport Road, Allentown, Pennsylvania (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 4615 I-55 North Jackson MS 2 https___www.google

Waffle House, front 3/4 view, 4615 I-55 North, Jackson, Mississippi (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 4615 I-55 North Jackson MS 3 https___www.google

Waffle House, rear 3/4 view, 4615 I-55 North, Jackson, Mississippi (source: maps.google.com)

However, more troubling than any amount of localization is the slow and incessant creep towards a newer, modern contemporary aesthetic that seems to have embedded itself into the brand’s traditional design.

WHI - Waffle House 12923 Shelbyville Road Louisville KY 2 https___www.google

Waffle House, front 3/4 view, 12923 Shelbyville Road, Louisville, Kentucky (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 12923 Shelbyville Road Louisville KY 5 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 12923 Shelbyville Road, Louisville, Kentucky (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 12923 Shelbyville Road Louisville KY 8 https___www.google

Waffle House, rear 3/4 view, 12923 Shelbyville Road, Louisville, Kentucky (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 8906 Fingerboard Road Frederick MD 3 https___www.google

Waffle House, front 3/4 view, 8906 Fingerboard Road, Frederick, Maryland (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 916 Harden Street Columbia SC 3 https___www.google

Waffle House, front view, 916 Harden Street, Columbia, South Carolina (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 916 Harden Street Columbia SC 7 https___www.google

Waffle House, rear 3/4 view, 916 Harden Street, Columbia, South Carolina (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 720 Cagan View Road Clermont FL 2 https___www.google

Waffle House, front 3/4 view, 720 Cagan View Road, Clermont, Florida (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 9221 E US Highway 36 Avon IN 3 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 9221 E US Highway 36, Avon, Indiana (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 9221 E US Highway 36 Avon IN 5 https___www.google

Waffle House side view, 9221 E US Highway 36, Avon, Indiana (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 1183 Polaris Parkway Columbus OH 6 https___www.google

Waffle House, front view, 1183 Polaris Parkway, Columbus, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 1183 Polaris Parkway Columbus OH 5 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 1183 Polaris Parkway, Columbus, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 1183 Polaris Parkway Columbus OH 3 https___www.google

Waffle House, side 3/4 view, 1183 Polaris Parkway, Columbus, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

WHI - Waffle House 1183 Polaris Parkway Columbus OH 2 https___www.google

Waffle House, rear view, 1183 Polaris Parkway, Columbus, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Case in point, Canal Street in New Orleans, Louisiana, will soon be home to “probably the fanciest Waffle House restaurant you will ever see”, complete with an outdoor seating in a little side bistro courtyard area, while also incorporating New Orleans design touches, and wrought iron fencing (source: midcitymessenger.com, nola.com).

http://midcitymessenger.com/2015/05/18/fanciest-waffle-house-ever-proposed-for-canal-street/

http://www.nola.com/dining/index.ssf/2015/05/waffle_house_new_orleans_canal.html

20150526_073123 WHI - Canal Street New Orleans LA

Canal Street, New Orleans, Louisiana

This evolution/revolution of the basic design premise that exuded a certain hokey and simple aura, towards a fancy and modern vibe, seems at odds and almost disingenuous with Waffle House.

5-Flight of fancy?

Unlike other brands that change, and refresh themselves ad nauseam, Waffle House had largely been a stalwart of consistency.

In fact, the restaurants are so ubiquitous and reliable that an informal “Waffle House Index” is used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to determine the necessary scale of recovery efforts following disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes (source: sacurrent.com, charlestoncitypaper.com, citylabs.com, huffingtonpost.com).

Furthermore, a partnership with Roadie, a startup that’s been hailed as the “Uber for shipping and delivery”, will have WaHos serving as meeting locations for drivers and senders (source: nextcity.org, citylabs.org). Merging the digital and brick-and-mortar economy, Waffle House restaurants invariably provide ideal pick-up/drop-off locations, that are highly recognizable, conveniently located, and always open.

WHI - Waffle House 4031 East Southport Road Indianapolis IN 3 2007 https___www.google

Waffle House (circa 2007), front 3/4 view, 4031 East Southport Road, Indianapolis, Indiana (source: maps.google.com)

Flush with a preponderance of older locations that typify the more traditional exterior trade dress, these legacy restaurants remain threatened by the passage of time, and the modern design movement that has since infiltrated/permeated into the Waffle House design ethos.

WHI - Waffle House 4031 East Southport Road Indianapolis IN 4 2012 https___www.google

Waffle House (circa 2012), side 3/4 view, 4031 East Southport Road, Indianapolis, Indiana (source: maps.google.com)

Whether deemed old-school, outmoded, passé, throwback, or some other descriptor, Waffle House had managed to remain relevant while staying a little old-timey and retro, rough around the edges and rustic at heart. For several decades, simple, honest, and without pretense, neatly summarized Waffle House.

Somehow, fancy and Waffle House simply does not mesh seamlessly. Yet, lacking in authenticity compared to their legacy design, the updated exterior design will likely not deter the large contingent of ardent defenders and ravenous fans from making the trek in for a helping of scattered, smothered, covered, chunked, topped, diced, peppered, capped or all the way, Waffle House hash browns.

 

Disclaimer: All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.

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About marc lortie

marc lortie is an Architectural Designer (Technologist) currently based in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). marc has several years of experience working in Canada and the USA on various projects, including commercial shopping centres, big-box stores, industrial plants, educational facilities, warehouses, storage facilities, intermodal facilities, hotels, offices, and residential developments. marc is a graduate of Carleton University, Algonquin College and La Cite Collegiale.

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