Many metrics will be tossed around in the next week measuring the damages Charleston’s weekend storm produced, but the one we’re interested in here on the Cuisine blog is the Waffle House Index. Yes, that’s a real thing.
After a storm, in addition to many other indicators, the Federal Emergency Management Agency gages an area’s destruction based on how many local Waffle Houses managed to stay open. FEMA rates regions on three levels:
Green: The restaurant is serving a full menu, indicating the restaurant has power and damage is limited.
Yellow: The restaurant is serving a limited menu, indicating there may be no power or only power from a generator or food supplies may be low.
Red: The restaurant is closed, indicating severe damage.
There was no answer at the FEMA news desk, so we cut to the chase and contacted Wilson White, the district manager for Charleston’s Waffle Houses to see how we fared. The Lowcountry, he says, was a level green.
“We have 24 Waffle Houses in our district — that’s from Beaufort to Sumter — and I think only one closed due to a little flooding,” says White. According to White, the Waffle House in Ladson saw the flooding, but got back up and running fast.
In order to stay operational 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, White says Waffle House has Jump Teams or groups of employees who will come from another area to help staff up. In the case of the storm this weekend, 17 employees came up from Savannah to Charleston, 16 employees traveled from Atlanta to Columbia, and 36 senior vice presidents in Atlanta for a corporate meeting are flying into Columbia today to help out.
“One of the things we explain to interviewees is that we do our best to serve customers year round. We work every holiday. We’re always open,” says White. Sometimes that means getting employees hotel rooms during severe weather, “so they can sleep, then come back to work,” he says, or having managers give workers rides to work.
“We always make sure it’s safe,” White adds. “Our goal is to serve our community when they have no place else to eat.”
And so it was at the Waffle House at 325 Savannah Hwy. this weekend. “People were walking over,” White says. “It was packed.”
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