By Maria Saporta
Friday, November 11, 2011
Waffle House soon will be the latest Atlanta institution to border Centennial Olympic Park with a signature location.
The national restaurant chain that was founded in metro Atlanta in 1955 is buying a prime piece of downtown land at the corner of Andrew Young International Boulevard and Centennial Olympic Park Boulevard for what will become a “showcase” for Waffle House.
“We are an Atlanta institution, and we will be down there near the World of Coke and the Georgia Aquarium,” said Pat Warner, vice president of marketing and communications for Waffle House. “This is a great location for us because of the millions of people who are down there each year who will be exposed to our brand.”
Waffle House currently has the property under contract, and Warner said the chain expects to close the sale by the end of the year. It then will take several months to retrofit the existing building on the site into an urban Waffle House. The restaurant should be open by next spring.
Warner said this signature store will be slightly different from its standard restaurants.
“We are envisioning a 43-seat restaurant, which is a little bit bigger than our standard restaurant, which usually are between 30 and 35 seats,” Warner said. “It will almost be a square restaurant, and most of our restaurants are shaped like a shoe box.”
The privately held, understated Atlanta company also plans to use this strategic downtown location, on about a third of an acre, as a way to be more visible and use the restaurant as a way to tell its story.
Warner said the company has no plans to move its Waffle House Museum, in Avondale Estates, to Centennial Olympic Park, where there is a growing cluster of tourist attractions and destinations.
“With that location, it’s a great opportunity to showcase the brand and our history,” Warner said. “We are going to keep the museum in Avondale, the site of our first restaurant. But we will be telling the story of the Waffle House at this location. Obviously this will be a showcase restaurant for us and the brand.”
A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, said Waffle House would be a welcome addition to Centennial Olympic Park. “It’s always great to have a hometown, well-known brand acquire almost a beachfront property in Atlanta.”
Waffle House was founded by two Avondale Estates neighbors — Joe Rogers Sr. and Tom Forkner — in 1955 and today has more than 1,600 locations in 25 states, mostly in the Southeast. The chain has 200 locations in metro Atlanta and 400 in Georgia.
Every restaurant is open 24-7, 365 days of the year — following the philosophy of founder Rogers that Waffle House should be available to customers at all times. Today, the CEO of the chain is Rogers’ son, Joe Rogers Jr.
The restaurant overlooking Centennial Olympic Park will be the company’s third downtown location. The company opened a restaurant at Underground Atlanta at 96 Upper Alabama St. in 2008; and opened one on the Georgia State University campus at 100 Piedmont Ave. S.E. in 2010.
While saying the planned Waffle House was not “a game-changer,” Harold Shumacher, president of The Shumacher Group Inc., a restaurant consulting firm, said “it’s a good location for them, and it’s a good endorsement of the amount of activity that is happening near Centennial Olympic Park.”
Waffle House should do particularly well at that location because of all the family-oriented attractions around the park.
“With the Waffle House, there will be a way to feed the family,” he said. “They will do well there.”
William Pate, president and CEO of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, agreed. “For our conventioneers and visitors who are constantly on the go, the downtown Waffle House provides a quality eatery where they can get great food fast, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” he said.
Waffle House officials have not determined the final building size, Warner said. “While we don’t have a final design, this unit will be different from the traditional Waffle House restaurants by the decoration inside to tell the Waffle House history and our tie to Atlanta.”
While this location is less traditional than its highway and roadside restaurants, Waffle House wants “to be in the best locations possible,” he said. “This one stands above all of them. What a great opportunity it is for us to come back to the heart of the city.”