I am an Episcopalian (though Calvary is not my parish) and have been living in Memphis for several years, so I knew about The Waffle Shop and the Lenten Preaching Series at Calvary Episcopal Church, but I had never been until it was chosen as part of my Volunteer Odyssey. I went the day before I was scheduled to volunteer with a friend to have lunch and see how it all works. Fortunately, he knew and introduced me to the woman in charge, so I didn’t have to go into it totally blind on Friday.
The first thing I did as a volunteer was wait tables, something I didn’t think I would do again, but it’s really not bad at the Waffle Shop – not to be confused with the Waffle House – even though the house is packed non-stop on Fridays for more than two hours. Very few full-time downtown restaurants serve as many people at lunch on a daily basis as the Waffle Shop does during Lent – about 350-400 on a Friday. That’s a lot. From what most people were eating, the big draw on Friday during Lent is the fish pudding, in order to observe a religious tradition of abstaining from meat consumption on Fridays. However, as soon as you walk in the door, the smell of the waffles is purely intoxicating, and I am now a waffle making machine. I can operate 4 waffle irons simultaneously – a skill I’m not sure I will ever need again unless I go work as a short order cook in a diner somewhere. Working at the waffle station is great! You get to talk to pretty much everyone and make awesome waffle smiley faces with sausages or chicken hash for eyes.
The only thing better than the food at the Waffle Shop is the other volunteers. From the busboys to the cashiers to the kitchen staff; it is a wholly volunteer-driven operation, and the daily front-house management is handled by Eddie Thomas. She is an unbelievable force of nature. Not only does she manage the staff and seating arrangements for all 300+ daily diners at community tables, but she also knows just about everyone in Memphis, and seats people with others they may enjoy meeting and conversing with. Businessmen of all kinds could learn a lot about human resources, sales, and customer relations from her.
All the food served at the Waffle Shop is tasty, especially the desserts, and if you’re downtown for lunch during Lent, I highly recommend stopping by, and if you have a few hours during the 40-day Lenten season, I suggest you consider volunteering there as well.