Waffle House CEO explains decision to reopen, how restaurant will keep people safe

ATLANTA — Come Monday morning, restaurants in Georgia will begin to reopen -- but with a whole lot of new rules in place.

Channel 2 Anchor Jorge Estevez talked to Waffle House CEO Walt Ehmer about what the beloved breakfast chain will be doing differently Monday.

Ehmer said the restaurant got a jump start weeks ago.

"I think I mentioned this six weeks ago, we started setting our restaurants up for social distancing," Ehmer said. "At the time we knew that was going to be the natural progression coming out of this."

Ehmer said they set up enhanced sanitizing practices and put in some rigorous screening protocols to make sure people weren’t coming in sick.

When doors open Monday, employees will be wearing masks.


"Are you prepared to have empty booths? Are you prepared to tell people you have to wait outside? Are you prepared for all of that?" Estevez asked.

"We are. We hate to disappoint anybody, but the good news is the customers understand right now," Ehmer said.

Waffle House originated in Georgia now has 400 stores across the state and thousands of employees. Ehmer said part of the decision to reopen came from wanting to take care of Waffle House workers.

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"I think it might make the difference between having a job and not having a job, and I know the unemployment system has been enhanced to help take care of the most vulnerable people, but people want to have jobs, and they want to have something to do and take care of their families," Ehmer said. " I think it’s going to give them some hope."

Ehmer said he is not going to force employees to come to work, but be there for people who are able to work and who are eager to get back.

"We want to be there for the people who are able to work, and we found that a bunch of our folks are very much wanting to get back to work," Ehmer said.

The CEO said restaurants are prepared to further restrict seating and work with a skeleton crew.

"What is it you’re hoping to accomplish? What message do you guys want to send to other businesses out there who do want to re-open?" Estevez asked.

"What I would like to accomplish is or what would come from this is we would stop fighting with one another. And we all have the same purpose. There are two crises out there right now. One is a health crisis that we’ve been talking about so much over the last several weeks and an equal crises that is brewing which is this economic crisis," Ehmer said.

“I don’t think we can solve one crisis without addressing the other crises,” Ehmer said. “I think America is finally coming to that realization that they’re both serious things that have incredibly human consequences.”