This morning we got a chance to talk briefly with Walt Ehmer, CEO of Waffle House. For our global readers unfamiliar with the American South, the Waffle House is a diner chain that functions like a medieval tavern: it sits at every crossroads and it is always open. The Waffle House is where travelers meet each other. It provides refuge for the tipsy, the joyful, the insomniacs. If you grew up below the Mason Dixon line, something happened to you once at the Waffle House.
The definition of a Waffle House is this: when you need one, it’s nearby and serving. Which is why the chain has to be so good at staying open after a hurricane. Here’s how Ehmer puts it:
I tell people all the time, I said, we’re really not that smart, we’re not that complicated. We just have a lot of want to. We want to be there for the community. We want to be there for our people. We want to be there for the first responders.
The way the Waffle House stays open is, in fact, really smart and really complicated. A 2010 case study for the International Journal of Production Economics walks through what “a lot of want to” looks like.