- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Waffle House said Wednesday that the restaurant chain has closed more than 400 of its nearly 2,000 locations as businesses struggle to stay open amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Through its social media accounts, Waffle House said 418 of its restaurants have closed and 1,574 remain opened, equating to around one-in-five locations having halted operations.

Compared to closures announced the previous morning, the latest tally indicates Waffle House has shuttered scores of more restaurants in a span of roughly 24 hours. As of early Tuesday, Waffle House said that 365 locations had closed and 1,627 remained open.

It was not clear if or when the locations will resume operations, and a statement issued by Waffle House later Wednesday did not mention details about their reopening.

“With so few customers visiting our restaurants, we are rapidly losing the ability to offer enough work hours for our associates to earn money needed to live their lives and pay their bills,” Waffle House said in the statement, adding that sales at its restaurants have declined by about 70% below normal levels this week.

“Waffle House is striving to keep as many stores open for as long as we can, in order to support as many Associates as possible,” said the statement, which noted that the majority of locations currently open — 1,278 — are operating as “take-out-only” businesses as opposed to offering dine-in service.

Founded in 1955, Waffle House has earned a reputation for resilience during the following decades due to its restaurants rarely ever closing their doors to customers, even in the face of natural disasters and other extreme weather events.

“Each restaurant is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” according to the Waffle House website.

Indeed, a former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency has previously referred to using what he called the “Waffle House Index” to determine the severity of disasters.

“If you get there and the Waffle House is closed?” then-FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said during a speech in 2009. “That’s really bad. That’s where you go to work.”

The latest closures announced by Waffle House came a little more than a week after the restaurant chain touted its efforts to stay open during the global coronavirus pandemic, which has infected more than 60,000 people across the U.S. and killed over 800 as of this Wednesday.

“At Waffle House, we take great pride in being open to serve the communities where we work, lives and raise our families. Our mission has been to provide an essential service in our communities during difficult times for all, including first responders and health care providers,” Waffle House said on March 15.

Three days later, Waffle House said all of its nearly 2,000 locations remained open, albeit at least for customers placing to-go orders.

Restaurants and other businesses across the country have increasingly been compelled to close their doors in the days since due to either orders or advice issued by localities looking to slow the spread of COVID-19, the highly contagious and potentially deadly respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Several states have enacted policies requiring nonessential businesses to temporarily close due to the coronavirus pandemic, and a group of 20 Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to President Trump on Tuesday asking him to issue a nationwide shelter-in-place order.

Mr. Trump has been hesitant to follow through, however, saying Tuesday that the U.S. “wasn’t built to be shut down.”

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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