With the advent of the CD and the continuing usefulness of the cassette, vinyl records were out of vogue in the 1990s. So how did United Record Pressing — a Nashville plant in operation since 1949 that in 2014 broke the record for the fastest-pressed album (in collaboration with Jack White) — stay afloat in these lean times? Partial credit should be given to Waffle House.
Once upon a time, the home of late-night waffles and bacon was a key source of demand for URP, which kept the vinyl jukeboxes in each of its 2,000-plus locations stocked with the latest 45s from Waffle House’s in-house songwriting and recording team: “Special Lady at the Waffle House,” “Waffle Doo-Wop,” “Waffle House Thank You” and the morose-sounding “What Remains.” (The chain jumped to digital in 2012.)
Waffle House’s music mini-empire began in 1984, a project of Mary Welch Rogers, the ex-wife of former chairman Joseph Rogers Jr. Frequent collaborators included Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia, a songwriting duo best-known for penning the 1982 novelty song “Pac-Man Fever.” The top 10 hit’s success led them, indirectly, to Waffle House’s corporate door.
Estimating Waffle House’s vinyl production is nearly impossible, but Gaines Butler of Metro Distributors, the man responsible for overseeing the chain’s jukebox empire, estimates he has “50,000 records sitting in the warehouse.” And those are just the leftovers.
The chain wasn’t stingy when it came to pressing vinyl. “Usher was in one night, upset because he wasn’t in the jukebox,” remembers Waffle House vp culture Pat Warner. “We got some Usher songs pressed and placed in that jukebox. Next time he came in, we had his ready for him.”