It was a normal Saturday morning at the Waffle House in La Marque, Texas, and this meant the place was bustling. An elderly man sat at the bar with his plate, but he couldn’t yet eat it. Instead, he needed his waitress’ help. Though her reaction to his timid request got caught on camera, and it quickly went viral.
The staffer in question was Evoni Williams – a native of Galveston, Texas. After her graduation from Texas City High School in May 2017, she didn’t go off to college right away. The young woman got a job at the Waffle House a month after turning her tassel so that she could save up for an education.
Those who knew the then-18-year-old Williams described her as a cheerful person. Indeed, she was someone who always wore a smile on her face. Though a busy breakfast shift at the Waffle House could get the best of even the most jovial of people. The restaurant made a point to have customers’ food orders in front of them in less than ten minutes or less, after all.
On the day in question, Williams was serving an elderly man in her section who had an oxygen tank. Unbeknownst to those around him, the latter had recently been released from the hospital. The old man made small talk with his waitress as customers shuttled about and the grills sizzled up made-to-order breakfasts.
Then came the interaction between Williams and her elderly customer which made at least one patron’s head turn. The exchange passed by in a few seconds – those who weren’t looking at the breakfast bar at the opportune moment would have missed it. But the woman who did see it had to pick up her jaw from the floor.
The quick-thinking woman hadn’t just watched Williams’ unexpected move, though. She had managed to snap a quick photo of what transpired between the waitress and her customer. Then, the patron shared it to Facebook, where it quickly went viral. And what began as a fleeting interaction would go on to completely change the then-teenage waitress’ life.
It’s no secret that people who love Waffle House really love the chain. Take this statistic as proof: the Atlanta franchises see a total of 80,000 customers every single day, according to Mashed. As such, working at the eatery means that the service staff stay busy all day – and night – long.
The website Eater claims that Waffle House servers’ hourly wage starts at a little over $2 an hour. They pad out their income with tips, though. And because the eatery is so eternally popular, some staffers have claimed that they could earn $20 per hour thanks to the extra percentage they get from customers.
Certain shifts proved more fruitful than others, mind you. There was a big breakfast rush – you could probably guess that by the place’s name. But one Waffle House employee told Mashed said that the 9:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. shift was the most lucrative. They explained, “The bar crowd comes in and it’s nothing to walk out with $200 to $300 in your pocket in the morning.”
Those tips don’t come for free, of course. Waffle House strives to get customers their food in eight minutes or less. So, the service staff must be quick, and they have to get the company’s one-of-a-kind ordering system down to a science. They apparently don’t use computers to keep track of customers’ orders. Instead, they write everything down in shorthand and pass that over to their cooks.
Some customers make it easier than others for the Waffle House team. The restaurant’s wait staff have clients who come in often and order the same thing on every visit. Manager Katie Pearson told Mashed that she sometimes begins buttering her regulars’ toast how they like it as soon as she sees them in the parking lot!
But how do you succeed while working at Waffle House? Well, you apparently have to be hardworking and have a good memory. But the most important trait for staffers to have is friendliness, according to a manager named Randy Coleman. He told The Wall Street Journal in November 2019, “You will not be able to fake it. It won’t be hard to figure out how you really feel about people.”
Evoni Williams must have ticked off all of those boxes when she started her job at the Waffle House in La Marque, Texas. The Galveston native began working there to help save funds for life after graduation. Specifically, she had gone to work full-time and planned to put her earnings toward college.
As we now know, earning cash at the Waffle House required Williams to put in some hard work. And on a Saturday in 2018 her La Marque restaurant saw a bustling breakfast crowd roll in. A customer in the eatery that day called Laura Wolf told KHOU-TV, “It was so busy in here.”
And in most Waffle Houses, busyness is always amplified by the size and shape of the restaurant itself. The chain’s architects designed the eateries in a shoebox shape so they had smaller storefronts and, therefore, lower taxes. The small amount of square footage doesn’t stop customers piling into booths or posting up at the bar, where they can see the line cooks at work right in front of them.
Adrien Charpentier had a seat at the bar on that busy Saturday morning at the La Marque Waffle House. The then-78-year-old counted himself as one of the eatery’s regulars. It wasn’t just the restaurant staff who knew him, either – this man had a reputation with the town’s locals, too.
Waffle House staffers knew Charpentier as “Mr. Karaoke” because he regularly hit the stage at the local senior center to sing tunes. But the senior citizen hadn’t quite been able to belt out his songs in the weeks leading up to his visit to the restaurant. As Charpentier told CNN in March 2018, he had been sick for a few weeks before heading into his usual breakfast spot.
Charpentier said, “I have been in and out of the hospital for the past five weeks. It started with pneumonia.” And, according to the American Lung Association, pneumonia-caused hospitalizations often require patients to undergo oxygen therapy, among other treatments. This is apparently used in order to bolster their lungs while the infection runs its course.
Charpentier continued to rely on oxygen when he came into the Waffle House that day. But he was glad to be back at his breakfast counter-of-choice – especially when he got to chatting with his waitress: Williams. Charpentier told CNN that he appreciated the conversation he shared with her.
When his food came out, though, Charpentier started feeling a little bit shy. He had to ask a favor of Williams. The senior citizen later explained with a chuckle, “I can hold a fork fine and dandy. But to cut it looks like I’m going to stab somebody.”
It wasn’t just that he struggled to use his utensils. As it turned out, Charpentier had lost the function of his extremities. He told ABC 13 News, “I had no coordination, no feeling [and no] strength in my hands.” Making matters worse, Charpentier had ordered ham, which he’d needed to slice before eating.
That’s why Charpentier had to ask for help. And so he turned to his friendly waitress Williams. But the restaurant around the two of them was, of course, bustling. She recalled the cook calling her over to come pick up hot food and deliver it to other customers just as the elderly man had asked for help.
Williams told KHOU-TV, “He was like, ‘My hands are not functioning too well.’ He needed me to cut his food.” Though the waitress didn’t hesitate – in spite of the busy restaurant and her team members requesting help elsewhere. She told CNN, “I was just like, ‘Sure! If you need help, that’s what I am here for.’”
Obviously, Williams’s kind gesture touched Charpentier – but he wasn’t the only one to see what the then-teenager had done. Remember Laura Wolf, the patron who spoke to KHOU-TV about how busy the Waffle House was that day? Well, she happened to spot the waitress cutting her customer’s food at the bar.
Wolf explained, “It was so busy in there, and she actually took the time to stop and hear what he had to say instead of walking past him. That just meant something to me.” And that’s why she quickly snapped a photo of Williams in action – slicing Charpentier’s breakfast. Then, Wolf uploaded the photo to Facebook.
With her photo, Wolf described the scene to her Facebook friends. She wrote on the post, “I don’t know her name but I heard this elderly man tell her his hands don’t work too good.” The Waffle House patron then said that everyone should “be like this waitress and take time to offer a helping hand.”
Soon enough, it became clear that Williams’ gesture didn’t just make an impression on Wolf. People across La Marque saw and positively reacted to the picture on Facebook. Then, people beyond the town’s borders started reacting to it. And it garnered more than 100,000 likes and 7,000 shares within a few days, according to NPR.
Closer to home, though, La Marque Mayor Bobby Hocking saw the photo, and he was touched by the image he saw on his screen. The official told CNN, “Somebody tagged me and it immediately, it just touched my heart. It’s so wonderful that the younger generation cares about the older generation.”
For her part, Williams couldn’t believe how much of an impact her photo had made. For one thing, she had no idea that anyone had seen her help Charpentier or snap a picture of the moment. She told Chron.com in March 2018, “I didn’t know the photo was taken until a couple hours later. When I saw it, it’s just something I would do for anybody.”
Little did Williams know, she was about to get more than just internet recognition for her good deed. Hocking felt that simply reacting to the photo via Facebook was not enough to honor the kind-hearted teen. Instead, he decided to make an example out of her – the good kind, of course!
Firstly, Hocking deemed March 8 to be Evoni “Nini” Williams Day in her honor. He hoped that naming the day after a good samaritan would spur even more good deeds in the city. Hocking told CNN, “There is a lot of love in La Marque, Texas, and we intend to perpetuate that.”
In response to that honor, Williams told CNN, “It is awesome. I feel excited and happy.” But her rewards didn’t end with a date on a calendar. The city announced that they would honor her with a ceremony at the local Waffle House, too. Spokeswoman Colleen Merritt said in a statement to Chron.com that “La Marque is proud to have this thoughtful young woman working in our city…”
On top of that, the spokeswoman’s statement foreshadowed the next twist in the story. Merritt added, “La Marque Mayor Bobby Hocking is passionate about our community’s youth and wants to encourage her dreams of attending college.” He wasn’t the only one with such a mission in mind, either.
Williams’ story on Facebook also caught the attention of president of Texas Southern University Austin A. Lane. The Houston-based educational institution was in close proximity to La Marque. And that made the next gift for the Waffle House waitress all the more perfect.
Several TSU alumni had seen the photo, and they wanted to do something for Williams, too. So, the university’s leadership used social media to gather donations and build a scholarship fund for Williams. She had taken the Waffle House job to make money for college, after all.
In the end, TSU’s effort – helmed by Lane and with funds from the school’s alumni – raised a whopping $16,000. And this went straight into a scholarship for Williams. The school was thrilled to have someone like her on campus, according to university administrator Melinda Spaulding.
Spaulding told CNN, “She has the character of the type of students we want at Texas Southern University.” Not only that: the scholarship would also remind Williams and other students that it’s worth it to treat others with kindness. The administrator also said, “We wanted to reward [Williams’] act of kindness and let her know that good deeds do not go unnoticed.”
With her scholarship, Williams seemingly wanted to keep doing good for the community in a customer-facing role. The Waffle House staffer said that she planned to study business administration in order to start her own salon or restaurant. And when one of those dreams comes true, she will only be able to help more customers like Charpentier. The senior citizen, meanwhile, sadly passed away in November 2019 at the age of 80.
But Williams will certainly not forget what happened to her while she worked that busy shift at the Waffle House and helped an elderly customer cut his meal. Her manager Mundarius Wright said that her gesture fit right in with the Waffle House way. He told CNN, “We treat customers like family.”
Yet Williams isn’t the only one who felt touched by what happened that day at Waffle House. Wolf, too, said that it made a huge impression on her. She wrote on Facebook, “I’m thankful to have seen this act of kindness and caring at the start of my day while everything in this world seems so negative.” And even those of us who weren’t there can agree with that sentiment.