Johnny Maxwell, left, talks with Rosamond Slocum, right, and Bill Elliott as he drinks coffee Wednesday at the Waffle House in Ringgold, Ga., something he does every afternoon. Maxwell and his wife are among three finalists in a nationwide contest to be named the No. 1 Fan of Waffle House, decided by online voting that ends Monday.Photo by John Rawlston.
RINGGOLD, Ga. -- For Johnny Maxwell it was love at first bite. The cheesy eggs. The bacon.
Thirty years ago Waffle House was new to Ringgold -- and to Johnny and his wife "Maxie" Maxwell. But it became their home away from home, the center of their food universe.
"We was going about three times a day, before my wife got sick," he said. "We ate breakfast, lunch and supper for a long time."
Like deadheads trailing the Grateful Dead across the country, the Maxwells became something like waffleheads.
They amassed a memorabilia collection from the restaurant chain, an iconic Southern business founded in 1955 near Atlanta. And they loyally ate at between 400 and 500 Waffle Houses around the South.
From their travels they brought home T-shirts, caps, place mats, dishes, hundreds of apron pins -- and even put a Waffle House booth in their kitchen.
And now Waffle House officials are calling the Maxwells some of the top fans in the country. A photo of the Maxwells posed in their booth surrounded by memorabilia earned them a place as one of three finalists in the Waffle House Fan Photo Contest.
The public will cast votes until Monday on a Waffle House Facebook page to choose who among the three contestants is the top fan. The winner, to be announced June 17, will get a visit at home from the Waffle House food truck. It will serve up waffles and hash browns for 100 friends.
If he wins, Maxwell plans to share the meal on a first-come, first-serve basis with whoever shows up.
"They're extreme Waffle House fans," said Kevin Taylor, the Maxwells' grandson by marriage.
Maxwell, a retired welder, admits to being a creature of habit. He's lived for 65 years on the Ringgold property where he grew up. And he's been loyal to other businesses before.
"I've had two barbers in my life, and I'm 74 years old," Maxwell said. "Usually, when I start something, I stick to it till the bitter end."
He still goes 365 days a year to Waffle House, unless he's sick -- but only to drink hot tea and get a black coffee to bring home to Maxie, who eight years ago was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
"I feel guilty eating without her," he said.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.