Over the past two decades or so, Lower Greenville residents have waged a heroic and largely successful battle to reclaim their neighborhood from the drunk 20-somethings who treated it like a never-ending frat party. With help from the city, they strong-armed problematic bars into closing at midnight. They got the street narrowed and sidewalks widened to better accommodate pedestrians. Gradually, the problem night spots gave way to more family- and neighborhood-friendly businesses: the Truckyard; Dude, Sweet Chocolate; Trader Joe's.
Now, the neighborhood's hard-won victory is under threat. An NBC 5 investigation last night revealed that the recent arrival at Ross and Henderson of an all-night eatery — a "Waffle House" that, per the report, is "infamous for catering to a late-night crowd" — is already causing problems.
The Observer's own Alice Laussade hinted at the brewing trouble when she introduced readers to the Waffle House concept two weeks ago:
Helmed by executive chef, This Guy, and sous chef, That Lady, Waffle House offers a spin on modern American breakfast cuisine — instead of only offering breakfast in the morning, Waffle House is pushing the breakfast envelope by making waffles, sausage and bacon all 24 hours of the day. Scandalous.
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But the scandal has been more intense even than Laussade predicted. As it turns out, there are still bars on Lower Greenville. Several others dot Henderson Avenue. Every night they cater to people — drunk people — who, neighbor Ray Damian warns, now have extra incentive to stay in the neighborhood. "They get hungry, they want to eat something to try and sober up a little bit," Damian said, darkly.
Another neighbor, Tom Rush, expressed a similar sense of foreboding. "I've been living in this neighborhood for 20-plus years, and even just a couple blocks off of Greenville the noise stays down there," he told the station. "I don't think we'll really see a problem at all."
Miraculously, Waffle House has operated for two weeks without a single fight or instance of unruly behavior. "But," NBC 5 noted ominously, "plenty of residents have sat at the counter and ate." Perhaps even more worrisome, the Waffle House has caused at least one reporter to mistakenly use the simple past of "to eat" when he should have used the past perfect.
I wandered over to Rush's house at about 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning. He put on a brave face as we talked on his porch. He claimed to be more concerned that the well-heeled neighbors who are slowly but surely populating will NIMBY out all the bars and restaurants that drew him to the neighborhood a quarter century ago than that drunk people will pee in his yard. But the new Waffle House, just three-quarters of a mile away, was already having a corrosive impact on the neighborhood. His next-door neighbor, with whom he was talking when the NBC 5 reporter pulled up on Monday, has already eaten there three times. Rush was still so thoroughly shell-shocked that he hadn't yet been able to bring himself to change out of his Buc-ee's pajama pants.