Waffle House co-founder Tom Forkner passes following death of business partner
Tom Forkner, the co-founder of Waffle House, passed away on April 26, at age 98.
Forkner’s death comes seven weeks after the death of his business partner Joe Rogers Sr., who founded Waffle House with Forkner in Avondale Estates in 1955. Rogers was 97.
The original location is now a museum and there are now hundreds of Waffle House locations.
Forkner grew up in DeKalb County in what would later become Avondale Estates. Forkner’s wife, Martha, passed away 53 days ago, the company said in a press release.
Here is the full obituary, provided by Waffle House:
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Thomas (Tom) Francis Forkner Sr., co-founder of Waffle House restaurants, passed away on April 26, 2017 in Johns Creek, Ga., at the age of 98. He was born on June 14, 1918 to Benjamin Scrugs and Bessie Allison Forkner, and he grew up in DeKalb County, Ga., now Avondale Estates.
Joe Rogers Sr., Tom’s partner who opened the first Waffle House restaurant with him, passed away seven weeks earlier on March 3, and Martha, his wife of 71 years, preceded him in death by 53 days. Tom is survived by his children Marti Forkner-Vernon (Terry Vernon), Allison Forkner (Weyman Johnson), Tom Forkner Jr. (Vera), five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Tom and Joe Rogers, Sr, opened the first Waffle House restaurant on Labor Day 1955 in Avondale Estates, Ga.
“Joe told me to open a restaurant and he’d show me how to run it,” Tom had said. Joe would later join Tom at the Waffle House full-time in 1961, and the chain took off from there.
“Tom and my father had a handshake deal, and their partnership and friendship continued for more than 60 years,” Waffle House Chairman Joe Rogers Jr. said. “Tom and Joe were great partners—Tom working the real estate side of the business and my father operating the restaurants.”
Tom and Joe Sr. had opened 400 restaurants by the end of the 1970s when they sold the business to the next generation. Though he was out of the day-to-day business, Tom regularly came into the Norcross, Ga., corporate office, including trips just weeks before his death.
“Tom would drive himself to the office to have lunch with new manager trainees,” Joe Rogers Jr. said. “He would chat with them about how the company began and offer encouragement to them as they started their careers.”
Tom earned degrees from Young Harris College and John Marshall Law School. He started his own law practice at age 23 then was drafted into the US Army in 1941. There he served as an intelligence officer and security officer for the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tn. At Oak Ridge he met the love of his life, Martha Jean Bishop, and married her on September 20, 1945, after only 90 days of courtship.
After the war, Tom had a long and successful career in real estate, starting at Forkner Realty in Avondale Estates in addition to starting the Waffle House chain with his friend Joe Rogers Sr.
Tom found time in midlife to take up golf, at which he excelled, becoming an accomplished seniors golfer and winning four state championships and two international championships. He was inducted into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame in 2007.
“Tom will be remembered as a man of honesty and integrity,” Joe Rogers Jr. said. “He and my father never envisioned the company would grow into what it is today, nor how thousands of associates would be positively impacted by the opening of that first restaurant.”
Whatever activity he was involved with, he enjoyed to the fullest. A celebration of life will be held at Norcross First United Methodist church on Sunday, April 30, 2017 at 3:00 pm with Dr. J. Truett Gannon and Dr. Jim King officiating. Visitation will be held at Crowell Brothers Funeral Homes & Crematory on Saturday, April 29, 2017 from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to: The Giving Kitchen, www.thegivingkitchen.org, which helps Atlanta area restaurant workers, to The Georgia Junior Golf Association, www.GSGAFoundation.org, that supports young golfers from ages 7 to 18, or to The National Multiple Sclerosis Society, www.nationalmssociety.org. Online condolences may be made at www.crowellbrothers.com. Arrangements by Crowell Brothers Funeral Homes & Crematory, 5051 Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, Peachtree Corners, GA 30092, 770-448-5757.