Waffle House Index: How waffles and hash browns help indicate hurricane damage

Waffle House Index: How waffles and hash browns help indicate hurricane damage
Waffle House determined to stay open up and down the coast line as Hurricane Dorian approaches.

SURFSIDE, S.C. (WBTV) - If you’ve ever been somewhere during a hurricane, it’s likely the Waffle House stayed open.

It’s been a part of the company’s history since Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston in 1989 and they’ve been working to remain open every day since.

This week, company leadership, including the President & CEO, traveled to the coastline to make sure restaurants were ready to go.

“Good morning, good morning," Walt Ehmer, president and CEO of Waffle House, greeted customers at a Waffle House in Myrtle Beach while he’s on a road trip up the coast.

He said the goal is to make sure the restaurants are able to stay open through the storm.

“Going in an out of these restaurants, making sure the local folks have everything they need, and make sure the food is there,” said Ehmer.

Throughout the storm, employees might have to shelter in place, but they try to keep the restaurants open while also keeping everyone safe. Ehmer said the restaurants are usually safe places since they’re built entirely of brick.

“We’ve developed a reputation for being here for the first responders, law enforcement, rescue, utility workers,” said Ehmer. “They don’t have a place for them to eat.”

Because of their dedication, federal and state officials have been using the unofficial Waffle House Index for years, which basically gauges damages based on if a Waffle House in the area is open or not.

It was coined after a director of FEMA talked about his methods from working in Florida.

“They recognized if we’re open, that part of the community was generally okay. If we were kind of open on a limited menu and a generator and power, that it was a little bit problematic,” said Ehmer. “But if we’re closed, we’re the last place to close, that it’s a place where you can do, set up and give aide to the community.”

Customers and employees at one of the several Myrtle Beach locations said they’re ready to help serve the community in a way they can, telling a WBTV reporter they hope to stay open through the whole storm.

“People keep calling saying ‘Are you open, are you closed?’ I’m like ‘We don’t close,’" said the employee.

Right now they have extra hands at the restaurant to help serve the location. During storms, Waffle House serves up to 10 times the normal amount of customers.

“We stay open for the community, for the first responders, the state troopers, for everyone trying to keep everyone safe,” said another employee.

Ehmer said that although they don’t work with governmental agencies, they do keep in touch during hurricanes and let them know if they have to close a restaurant or go to a limited menu.

As of now, they don’t have any plans to close down locations in Myrtle Beach.

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