Even before the rampage, which also left four people wounded, it was not hard to find accounts of other Waffle House shootings. There was last spring in Ohio, one in North Carolina in October, another in Mississippi in December, and January killings in Florida and Missouri.
“It is a public square of an off-ramp somewhere off I-20 for everybody, and if it’s a public square, you should see marriage proposals, you should see births, you should see squabbles,” Mr. Edge said. “You should watch a buddy movie come into focus at a Waffle House.”
Brawls, like the one the singer Kid Rock was involved in about a decade ago, are publicly greeted with more of a shrug than surprise, and robberies are hardly unthinkable. In 2011, four men who regularly ate together at a Waffle House in Georgia were arrested, accused of plotting attacks on government buildings. Seeking leniency for one defendant, a lawyer asked a judge to “see the case for what it was — a group of old men at the Waffle House who took their talk too far.”
Waffle House, a chain of 1,800 eateries, has also faced multiple lawsuits from customers complaining about racist treatment from employees. Some plaintiffs said that restaurant workers used racial epithets and ignored black guests while catering to white customers, and the chain’s restaurants have tangled several times with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which serves as a discrimination watchdog.
The company has long rejected allegations of racial bias, and its laminated menus used to offer a more wholesome version of history than the one critics raise: “America’s Place to Work, America’s Place to Eat.”
Although officials were still reviewing the episode between the black woman and the white police officers in Saraland, Ala., Waffle House said in a statement this week that it believed “police intervention was appropriate.”
“We take this matter very seriously and think it is important for all those involved or interested in the matter to exercise caution until the facts are developed,” the company said.
Waffle House has also long been sensitive to concerns about safety at its restaurants, fears that gained new traction after Sunday’s shooting.
“We keep control of the restaurants pretty well,” said Mr. Rogers, a name badge on his shirt that said he had been a “team member since 1961.”
Waffle House is a place where newly married couples sometimes stop, still tuxedoed and gowned, after their weddings. Parents will occasionally catalog a child’s first waffle as if it were the tooth fairy’s inaugural drop by. Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, John Legend and Chrissy Teigen went on a double date dressed in evening wear at a Waffle House in 2015, and last year, Bruno Mars celebrated his music video release there. In 1997, the governor of Alabama wondered aloud whether the state should look to improve its efficiency and consistency by studying Waffle House’s operations.
Waffle House jukeboxes play in-house hits like “There Are Raisins in My Toast,” but the restaurant’s soundtrack is really clanging dishware and servers shouting orders to grill cooks. There is a lexicon for the near ritual ordering of hash browns. (A regular order scattered, smothered, covered and capped — that is, with onions, cheese and mushrooms — will set you back a few bucks and 275 calories.) A T-bone can be had at sunrise, and a plate of maybe-a-bit-burned bacon is yours at sundown, the tab always calculated on a yellow slip.
The company, founded in 1955 near Atlanta, is privately held and far smaller than many of its rivals. IHOP claims 1.5 percent of the full-service dining market share by sales, while Denny’s takes 1.3 percent, according to Euromonitor, a market research firm. Waffle House has 0.6 percent.
Still, there is plenty of money to be had: Roughly 17 percent of all chain restaurant revenue in the country is derived from companies that specialize in pancakes, waffles, omelets, French toast and other breakfast items, according to IBISWorld, a market research firm.
But statistics and numbers rarely seem to matter at Waffle House. It was especially so in Nashville on Wednesday as Store No. 2267 reopened, the shattered windows replaced and the bloodstains wiped away. The grill crackled. The coffee cups clinked. The servers called out orders through the somberness that still hung in the air.
“Today’s a very unusual day,” one waitress said softly. “It will be different tomorrow.”
A woman cradling a newborn walked into the restaurant a few minutes later. The woman began to cry.
She had survived Sunday’s shooting.
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