Waffle House tells its customers that it never closes—and for the most part, Hurricane Harvey was no exception.
“We have our own special disaster teams and generators,” a Galveston, Texas Waffle House employee told Yahoo before Harvey made landfall. “We’re open up until the city makes us close ... As soon as it’s over we’ll be right back open.”
Even as the Category 4 storm clobbered southeast Texas with 130 mile an hour winds and dumped more than 50 inches of rain in a matter of days, only a handful of the 24-hour breakfast restaurant chain’s Texas locations powered down their griddles and shut their doors.
Of Waffle House’s 31 Houston locations, only four closed during the storm, according to the company.
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And that’s no accident, according to NPR.
Ahead of the storm, Waffle House “jump teams” of restaurant managers from as far afield as Ohio, Tennessee and Georgia headed down to Texas to help keep the restaurants up and running. In some cases, those out-of-state employees are vital when local employees can’t get from their house to work—especially when a storm leaves roads inundated and all but impassible, as Harvey did.
The jump teams are about as intense as they sound, according to Yahoo, armed with a level of preparedness and precision that would make a drill sergeant blush. Each Waffle House has its own checklist for storms, and employees are all educated about how to work during a hurricane.
Locations can even keep operating without electricity and running water, according to NPR, though without natural gas they can’t power their grills.
Waffle House also tweaks its food offerings in disaster scenarios, according to NPR.
“We go to a limited menu,” said Pat Warner, Waffle House director of external affairs, told NPR. (Spoiler alert: “To be honest, we just cook bacon and eggs,” he says. “But sometimes you need bacon and eggs.”)
That limits what customers can order, but it “makes it easier for our production teams and for our supplier," Warner said.
Waffle House has long been renowned for its ability to stay open as disaster shutters business, schools and everything else—and it’s so well known for it that even the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) has taken note. FEMA measures storm damage severity in part based on the “Waffle House Index.”
“Waffle House stays on when the wind’s blowing—they never close,” said Philip Strouse, FEMA’s Private Sector Liaison, in an interview with Yahoo Finance last year.
“If these little stores are going out when it only takes a few people to staff,” Strouse said, “that’s bad.”