ATLANTA -- Waffle House co-founder Thomas (Tom) Forkner Sr. passed away at the age of 98 on Wednesday. His death comes just seven weeks after the death of his long-time business partner Joe Rogers, Sr.
His loss is felt by his family and more than 40,000 Waffle House associates across the country.
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Forkner and Rogers started the Waffle House brand more than six decades ago when the neighbors opened their first restaurant on Labor Day in 1955 in Avondale Estates. They quickly developed a loyal customer base and began to build the business across Georgia and neighboring states.
“We’re not in the restaurant business,” Joe Rogers, Sr. would say. “We’re in the people business.”
The yellow Waffle House sign became a familiar landmark along streets and highways across the Southeast, signaling the restaurant would stay open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
By the end of the 1970s, the pair had opened 400 restaurants before selling the business to the next generation. And though he was out of the day-to-day business, Forkner regularly came into the Norcross, Ga., corporate office, including trips just weeks before his death.
Forkner was born June 14, 1918 to Benjamin Scrugs and Bessie Allison Forkner and grew up in DeKalb County, Ga., now Avondale Estates. He earned degrees from Young Harris College and John Marshall Law School before starting his own law practice at 23. He was drafted into the Army in 1941, where he served as an intelligence officer and security officer for the Manhattan Project in Oak Rridge, Tenn. While there, he met his wife Martha Jean Bishop.
After the war, Forkner opened a real estate business in Avondale Estates, where he would later open the Waffle House restaurant.
Forkner is survived by his three children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Those who knew him said he would be remembered as a "man of honesty and integrity," according to his business partner's son, Joe Rogers, Jr.
A celebration of life service for Forkner will be held at the Norcross First United Methodist Church on Sunday, April 30 at 3 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Giving Kitchen, the Georgia Junior Golf Association, or the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
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