A dear friend of mine, bless his heart, has to work every major holiday. Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter are days on which he labors, while his family celebrates without him.
It isn't a glamorous job, either. He greets customers, takes their orders and clears away the dishes. And if it's necessary, he rolls up his sleeves, plunges his hands into hot, soapy water and washes those dishes he had just taken from the table.
But such is the life of Waffle House employees. They labor while most rest. "Christmas is our busiest day of the year," he says. "Customers will be lined up out the door, waiting to get in."
Last Thanksgiving, I called him, expecting to get his voice mail. I wanted to leave him a message that, while I was preparing dinner for family and friends, I was thinking of him and the other Waffle House employees who would not have the same pleasure as I. Surprisingly, he took the call.
"Ronda!" he answered happily, for he isn't grumpy or resentful that his job demands his holidays. "I saw it was you calling and wanted to say hello."
Of course, you knew that Waffle House employees work on holidays, for the famed restaurant's doors are never closed. They're open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But did you know that the CEO of the company, the president and other executives work side-by-side with the waitresses, cooks and dishwashers?
Yep, it's the kind of company philosophy that other companies would do well to embrace. The executive team of the company that owns more than 800 stores and franchises hundreds more in 25 states, acts like no other executive team I've ever met -- and I've met many. They wear the same name tags as store employees with their first names only, work a third shift at least once a month, and their business cards read simply: Operations. No fancy, authoritative sounding titles.
In fact, I didn't know for a while that my friend -- a proud Georgia Tech graduate, by the way -- was president. He had introduced himself to me by saying simply, "I sell waffles for Waffle House." I thought he probably worked in purchasing or the warehouse. I liked him enormously from the beginning, for he is funny, affable, humble and kind. One day I mentioned to a friend, who along with his brother owns Royal Cup Coffee, the supplier of Waffle House's coffee, that we had a mutual friend.
"Oh. Great guy!" Hatton replied with grand enthusiasm. "He's president."
It's hard to flabbergast me, but that did. My mouth dropped. "He's what?"
"He's president of Waffle House." He couldn't imagine that I hadn't already discovered that little fact.
I called him on his cell phone. "You didn't tell me that you're the president of Waffle House!"
He laughed, then shrugged off my major discovery. "I'm in Arkansas, washing dishes right now in one of our stores. It's not a glamorous job. I'm just one of the many terrific Waffle House employees. Titles don't mean much with us."
I liked him even more at that moment. What a fine man. I won't mention his name, because that would make him unhappy with me. "It takes all of us working together to create a great company." That's a philosophy that started with the founders, Joe Rogers and Tom Forkner, and is instilled so deeply in the company's trenches that it can't be dug up and cast away. It is as much their legacy as covered, smothered and scattered.
Never have I met the president of a company -- either a small or large corporation -- who wasn't eager to share his accomplishments. I am impressed by my friend.
Now, if I could just get him to add a fried baloney sandwich to the menu and name it after me, I'd really be impressed.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of "What Southern Women Know About Faith." Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her newsletter.