Thomas F. Forkner, who jumped from selling real estate to the restaurant business when he co-founded Waffle House in the 1950s, died April 26 n Suwanee, Ga. He was 98.
Waffle House announced his death in a statement. The cause was not disclosed. He died less than two months after the death of his business partner, Joe Rogers, who recruited him to help launch the famous Southern diner chain.
Mr. Forkner grew up in DeKalb County, Ga., near Atlanta, and sold real estate after serving as an Army intelligence officer during World War II.
He sold a house to Rogers, a neighbor at the time, who persuaded Mr. Forkner to join him in starting a restaurant. They opened the first 24-hour Waffle House in the Atlanta suburb of Avondale Estates on Labor Day in 1955.
A second location opened two years later, and they kept building the business over the next two decades. Under Mr. Forkner and Rogers, the Waffle House chain grew to 400 restaurants by the time they sold their company in the late 1970s.
Rogers died March 3 at age 97.
Mr. Forkner’s wife of 71 years, Martha, died March 4.
The Atlanta-based company now has more than 1,500 locations. Mr. Forkner was known to drop by the company headquarters regularly, up until a few weeks before his death. He would often drive there to have lunch with new manager trainees, said Waffle House Chairman Joe Rogers Jr., whose father was Joe Rogers.
“Tom and my father had a handshake deal, and their partnership and friendship continued for more than 60 years,” Rogers said in a statement. “Tom and Joe were great partners — Tom working the real estate side of the business and my father operating the restaurants.”
Mr. Forkner also was an accomplished golfer, the company said, and won enough senior championships to warrant his induction into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame in 2007.
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