The corporate team at Waffle House expected solid results in opening its newest Southwest Florida location in Lehigh Acres. It didn’t expect one of the best openings in company history, though.
The first Waffle House opened in 1955 in Georgia with more than 2,000 locations following. Store No. 2,427, the new one at 3414 Lee Blvd. in Lehigh Acres, had the 14th-best first seven days in company history, Senior Vice President Matt Cox said. Making the opening even more unique, the location, which opened Sept. 11, has yet to transition to opening 24 hours a day like most Waffle Houses.
“Lehigh is really a great community for us,” Cox said. “They’re just hard, working-class people. You can see from how busy we are, they love Waffle House. This is the perfect place for us. We do really well in communities like Lehigh Acres.”
Waffle House now has 13 locations in Southwest Florida. A 14th is being planned for 4891 Palm Beach Blvd. in Fort Myers. Waffle House bought the property for $450,000 in December 2020 and then razed what had been an abandoned Pizza Hut in February 2021. About a year from now, it’s in line to be the region’s next location.
“We don’t advertise, as you may or may not know,” Cox said. “There’s never a Waffle House commercial on TV. To me, it’s really just family-oriented.”
Waffle House prefers to be marketed by word-of-mouth, Cox said. It also doesn’t hurt that the brand is referenced a lot in pop culture, such as by the Jonas Brothers, who titled one of their songs “Waffle House.”
Former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Craig Fugate coined the Waffle House Index for hurricane-stricken areas, with green meaning that an area’s Waffle House restaurants were open and yellow meaning some were open and some were still without power.
“And if we’re closed, it’s red, and it’s bad,” Cox said. “… We don’t really use it or talk about it much. We just do what we do. But we get more people asking about that than anything else.”
The new Waffle House hired between 50 and 60 employees, Cox said, and eventually will shift to be open 24 hours a day.