U-M students work to bring Michigan’s first Waffle House to Ann Arbor

‘The people of Ann Arbor have been waffle-deprived for too long,’ said group co-founder

Michigan Waffle House team members deliver Waffle House orders from Ohio in a parking lot in downtown Ann Arbor on Nov. 15, 2020. Members L-R: Zach Simpson, Leo Samba, Harshith Vempati, Nikhil Tangella and Cam Turner. (Michigan Waffle House)

ANN ARBOR – Atlanta native and University of Michigan junior Cam Turner has always felt something was missing on campus.

Growing up in the South, Waffle House is part of the culture, said Turner. He said he has fond memories of pouring into the modest breakfast joint with friends after football games or late nights. Open 24/7, Waffle House is also an affordable dining option for high school and college students.

“I went from a Waffle House on every corner to coming up here and not having one in the entire state,” said Turner.

Michigan Waffle House Club was born.

The project is part of the Entrepreneurial Creativity class taught at the university by Dr. Eric Fretz. Each year, he tasks his students with doing epic things, specifically coming up with ways to improve life on the school’s campus.

“Fretz asked us to come up with either an innovative idea or solve a problem that the campus faces and we decided to conquer one of the biggest problems University of Michigan has, and that’s not having a Waffle House on campus,” Turner said.

The five-person team has mobilized on social media, sharing photoshopped images of celebrities enjoying Waffle House and changing lyrics of popular songs to record parodies about the popular breakfast spot.

Its Instagram account has nearly 650 followers and its Facebook group has 245 members.

In early November, Turner and his teammates launched a Google form for locals to place an order for Waffle House that the group would personally deliver from Ohio.

“We took orders and collected almost $1,000 worth of orders from students, faculty and Ann Arbor locals,” said Turner. “The morning of Nov. 15, we drove down to Ohio with a bunch of coolers in the back of a van. We placed orders a few days in advance and we picked them up, brought them back and ended up delivering them. It was cold, it was raining, but people came and picked up their waffles.”

What began as a student project has become somewhat of a movement on campus, and through connections, the group is now preparing a pitch for Waffle House’s CEO to bring Michigan’s first franchise to Ann Arbor.

So, what would be the ideal location for the Ann Arbor Waffle House?

“There’s a spot where PNC bank used to be on South U. right across from Joe’s Pizza,” said Turner. “Putting a Waffle House right on that corner would be the perfect spot. I think people would come from Lansing and all over the state just to get a taste of (it).”

When asked if downtown’s Fleetwood Diner suffices for now, Turner said that the Main Street area can be far for students, plus, it doesn’t have waffles on the menu.

For now, the team is planning to make merch and keep spreading the word about their mission. Also important to them: Making people smile.

“We were able to bring a lot of light and joy during this time and that was the biggest thing,” said Turner.

This story is part of a “Be Epic” series on Dr. Fretz’s Entrepreneurial Creativity class.

About the class

Dr. Fretz’s Entrepreneurial Creativity class (P223/ALA223) is one of the more unusual classes on campus. As the core course for everyone taking the #1 ranked Entrepreneurship minor, almost 2,000 students have gone through its unique structure since Dr. Fretz created it in 2014. This class gets students out of their comfort zone by assessing their personal characteristics that contribute to creative and entrepreneurial success, like: EQ, IQ, Grit, Personality, and Divergent Thinking. Almost 300 students per term form small teams that are sorted into sections and encouraged to develop a list of creative ideas that will improve the community, create something novel, or make money as well as “be epic”!

Each team reviews their ideas with Dr. Fretz and they agree on the best choice as well as a rough plan for the term. Four GSI’s assist with supervising and mentoring each team throughout the term as they grapple with planning, teamwork, and leadership issues, while applying class concepts to those same issues. With periodic check-ins and energetic mentoring Dr. Fretz ensures each team has the best chance to reach their full potential. The very best teams are provided a chance to compete for funding with a Venture firm in NYC and participate in the “Big Show” after classes end. While never conceived as an incubator class, over two dozen companies of varying size have begun from class projects.

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.