published Sunday, August 31st, 2014

Fan feed: Waffle House winner treats 200 neighbors to free meal in Ringgold

From left, Tina Murell, her grandson Braxton Burham, and Marie Turner take free waffles and hash browns from a mobile Waffle House on Saturday in Fort Oglethorpe.
From left, Tina Murell, her grandson Braxton Burham, and Marie Turner take free waffles and hash browns from a mobile Waffle House on Saturday in Fort Oglethorpe.
Photo by Doug Strickland.
  • photo
    Johnny Maxwell hides his eyes as senior marketing manager Shelby White unveils his gift, a Waffle House jukebox, on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014, at the Waffle House giveaway outside of Juniors Building Material in Ringgold, Ga. A Waffle House food mobile was on hand to give away free waffles and hash browns as a prize to Maxwell and his wife Maxie, who were named the breakfast chain's #1 fans in a contest.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
    enlarge photo

  • photo
    Johnny Maxwell waves to friends as he arrives Saturday at the Waffle House giveaway outside of Juniors Building Materials in Ringgold, Ga. The giveaway was the prize that Maxwell and his wife, Maxie, won when they were named the restaurant chain's No. 1 fans in a Facebook contest.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
    enlarge photo

Johnny Maxwell can't trick his wife, Maxie, by bringing McDonald's coffee in a Waffle House cup into their Ringgold, Ga. home.

"I know every time he tries that trick," Maxie said, shaking her finger at her husband of 53 years.

The Maxwells have been dedicated to the Ringgold Waffle House since it opened 30 years ago. "I think we were it's first customers," Maxie said.

Before Maxie got too sick to easily leave the house, the couple would go to the restaurant together every day -- it wasn't uncommon for them to eat all three daily meals there, day after day, year after year.

Waffles, cheesy grits, bacon, salads and sandwiches -- there wasn't much on the menu they didn't eat, and hundreds of times.

Such dedication made it no surprise when Johnny Maxwell won the well-earned title of Waffle House's Biggest Fan by receiving the most Facebook votes in a nationwide contest.

"The whole community came together for him to win," said Johnny's great granddaughter, Jennifer Taylor. "We told everyone, 'Tell your brother and your mother and your daddy and your cousin and her sister.' And it worked! He won!"

And, Johnny said, the prize for winning was perfect: He got to invite 200 family members and friends to come eat free waffles and hash browns prepared in a Waffle House mobile food truck on Saturday.

The mobile kitchen set up in the parking lot of Junior's Building Materials on Battlefield Parkway, and Johnny Maxwell was greeter in chief. Wearing a canvas hat covered in Waffle House buttons, he pumped hands and hugged necks as hungry people arrived and lined up for plates.

"We are so excited for Johnny," said Kelly Thrasher, communications director for Waffle House. "You can tell he is a really genuine, kind man, who really loves Waffle House and his community."

Waffle House also surprised the Maxwells with a jukebox, like those in the restaurants.

"They have a whole homage to Waffle House in their home," Thrasher said.

The Maxwells' house is indeed a shrine to the waffle joint. Their kitchen has an actual Waffle House booth, and they also have a full-sized authentic sign from the restaurant, numerous framed pictures and an uncountable number of collector's items proudly displayed.

Johnny said he "begged, bugged, and bought" the entire collection.

"Waffle House really is our home away from home," Maxie said.

A day still does not pass that Johnny doesn't trek to the Waffle House, sometimes for food, but always to bring Maxie a cup of her favorite coffee.

Johnny knows all the waitresses and the regulars. "I really like to aggravate the new waitresses, too. I always order 'wot hater' instead of 'hot water,'" he said.

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6592.

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