Waffle Records: Scattered, Smothered, Covered...Rockin'?
Waffle House restaurants are noisy when they’re busy. Waiters call orders over burbling conversation. Frying food spits and sizzles. Dishes rattle in the sink.
Sometimes, a jukebox joins that chorus playing music you won’t hear on the radio.
"There are Raisins in My Toast" is one of about 40 songs that Waffle House has released since the mid-1980’s on its own record label, called Waffle Records, of course.
“So, it’s not Waffle House, Waffle House, Waffle House over and over again in a song,” said Shelby White, Senior Marketing Manager at Waffle House.
“It’s about our food. It’s about our people. It’s about the things that happen if you just sit in a Waffle House and listen to the conversations around you. We try to represent all that to some degree in the songs.”
White is the head of Waffle Records, which she runs with a small team. She said the songs aren’t supposed to be commercials, more like mood music.
“You know, you can tell a difference when you walk into a restaurant, and it’s just say empty or there’s no sound other than maybe what’s going on the grill, versus when you add music to the background. It lifts it up and gives a different feeling and atmosphere to the experience,” White said.
Even when the songs aren’t explicitly about food, they manage to work Waffle House into their lyrics, and they come in any number of styles.
There's boy band R&B.
And there's good old American rock and roll.
“This is ‘Saturday Night at My Place,' one of my favorites,” said Jerry Buckner. He produced the song and many of the other Waffle Records tracks.
Sitting in a Waffle House in suburban Atlanta, Buckner said the idea to produce the songs came from Waffle House co-founder Joe Rogers, Sr., who had high standards for the work.
“If it sounded too much like a commercial, it got the axe,” Buckner said.
Once a song made the cut, Buckner said it would be recorded and pressed on vinyl 45s. Those 45s would then be put in Waffle House jukeboxes.
Today, the process is digital and much easier. Buckner said he’s talking with Waffle House about producing more songs.
“I think we’re going to kick back in and start doing a lot more of them,” Buckner said.
But is there any demand for new Waffle House songs?
I spent a few hours in a Waffle House one recent Saturday morning, and nobody played any of the Waffle Records songs. Then I decided to broaden my search.
At another Waffle House in Atlanta, none of the top 100 jukebox plays were Waffle Records songs. I finally found a chart-topper at my fifth restaurant: “There are Raisins in My Toast” sat stranded in the mid-60s.
So, the songs aren’t all that popular. By Waffle House’s count, they only got 1 percent of all plays last year.
But Shelby White, head of Waffle Records, said she’s happy with that figure.
“We’re not trying to get played on the radio. If anyone wants to play it, that’s great, but it’s all about inside the restaurant. So every time it plays one time, that’s just one more time that we’re extending the experience,” White said.
I asked White how much Waffle House spends and makes on Waffle Records, but she declined to answer. She told me the return on investment is hard to pin down.
Even so, Waffle Records is still up and running. Their most recent song is called “Color Me Gone.” It’s not likely to be a hit, but like all the other Waffle Records songs, the very curiosity of its existence makes it worth a listen.