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When you’ve been waiting this long for a Waffle House in Miami-Dade — try 63 years — who needs a clock to determine the real opening time for the first Waffle House in the county?
The iconic restaurant chain tweeted an anticipatory message at 7 a.m. Wednesday that asked: “Are you ready Miami Gardens?! At 2pm TODAY this Waffle House is officially OPEN!”
But so many people had already turned out for Miami-Dade’s first taste of its famed smothered hash browns or the secret off-the-menu Corben Sandwich concoction — bacon, egg and cheese on a waffle, with hashbrowns smothered, chunked and diced — named for the local filmmaker, the decision was easy.
Just open the joint.
So by 9 a.m., after the mayor’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, more than 50 people streamed through the doors at the new 24-hour Waffle House at 196675 NW Second Ave., for its soft opening, which was two years in the making. The restaurant was built on the lot of the former Jamaican/Chinese restaurant Nice Mon and before that a Lums hamburger joint. It was delayed by one unwanted visitor in these parts — September’s Hurricane Irma.
The first customers were greeted by about 50 employees, a major roll-out for the nationally familiar breakfast and late-night comfort food spot.
Of course, Corben, the chain’s most vocal fan, was there to have the “first Corben Sandwich ever served in the first Waffle House in Dade.” Corben’s pal, Adam Gersten, owner of Wynwood’s Gramps, was the first to bite into the first hash brown in the first Miami-Dade Waffle House, Corben said.
“People just started coming,” said Corben, director of “Cocaine Cowboys” and “The U.” “They didn’t send out a press release. They didn’t have a publicist nudge you into writing about it. It’s the Field of Dreams of waffles. If you build it, they will come. What the hell? And people just started coming in. It was amazing.”
Corben’s social media posts about Waffle House over the years have arguably done the most to cement a retro eatery’s image into people’s minds since director Quentin Tarantino immortalized the now-defunct Hawthorne Grill in Los Angeles in the Pumpkin and Honey-Bunny scene in 1994’s “Pulp Fiction.”
So what’s the appeal of a Waffle House, a chain of 2,100 that opened its first location in Avondale Estates, Georgia on Labor Day 1955?
Let Corben, 39, explain.
“It’s the great American company,” Corben theorizes. “If you’ve ever had to drive in the south in the middle of the night for hours on end, what’s it like to see that yellow light in the darkness, in the wilderness, that feeling you get: ‘I’m going to get a warm, home-cooked meal made right in front of me. It will be the highlight of my drive, my night.’ That’s the feeling about Waffle House.”
The always-open chain, which has branches in Broward and a location in Key Largo, is so reliable it serves as a “mood ring” during natural disasters, Corben noted. If Waffle House is closed, you’d better heed weather warnings. A big one’s gonna blow.
Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate once teased about the Waffle House Index. “If you get there and the Waffle House is closed? That’s really bad,” he told the Miami Herald in 2016 during Hurricane Matthew’s visit, which led to a code red closing of restaurants along Interstate 95 between Titusville and Fort Pierce to let employees ride out the storm safely.
“You have to respect that,” Corben said. “It’s like a family-owned business.” The system is so ingrained, the wait staff doesn’t even write out orders for the cooks. They just shout ’em across the room — even for special orders.
“Everyone in management has to work the griddle, anything goes wrong you have to jump in, that is the heartbeat of the whole thing.”