“Wait, why do you look so familiar?” Before I could even ask a question, LSA senior Cam Turner was interviewing me instead. I have to laugh because I know exactly why I look so familiar to him — he was an RA in my freshman dorm. It’s not the only thing we have in common, either. We’re both from the South, him from Georgia and myself from Tennessee, and we’re both passionate about the one thing that binds all Southerners together: Waffle House.
“This all started with Dr. (Eric) Fretz’s Entrepreneurial Creativity class,” Turner said in an interview with The Michigan Daily, “we needed a project … then that one kind of stuck for whatever reason.” He’s referring to Michigan Waffle House, the Instagram campaign to “bring the state of Michigan its first Waffle House franchise.” Turner is one of five founding campaign members: Zach Simpson, Leo Samba — whom he called “the other (Southerner)” — Harshith Vempati and Nikhil Tangella round out the team. Back in the fall of 2020, the five were charged with designing a movement or campaign that solved an issue on campus, and Michigan Waffle House was born as a solution for two things: the absence of a Waffle House in Michigan and the lack of affordable late-night food on campus.
The movement exists largely on Instagram, and it’s only grown since its conception. In December of 2020, the page had 650 followers, and at the time of the interview, that number had grown to 1,180. When asked about that growth, Turner said that “hitting 1,000 followers is like a milestone … that’s a decent following.” The group has expanded into selling merchandise (“waffledrip”), producing Waffle House parodies of pop music (“waffletunes”) and, most recently, hosting Waffle Day in campus dining halls.
Waffle Day, the Waffle House–inspired dinner at every dining hall on campus, was “a fever dream” for the group. “It was initially supposed to be only MoJo,” Turner said, “but we were able to hype it up and get every dining hall on campus.” Waffle Day included waffles, topping bars and an assortment of other breakfast foods all served in the dining halls. The event was a huge success. “Turnouts were great … we’re spreading awareness that we don’t have a Waffle House … and people seemed to enjoy it,” Turner said. Instagram posts captured lengthy lines and large groups of students partaking in Waffle Day, and it was promoted on the University’s student Instagram page. Turner cited posters around campus and social media as major promotional tools for Waffle Day, adding that these allowed students to “engage in some of the hype that we’re trying to build.”
When asked what had been more crucial to their growth, social media presence or events like Waffle Day, Turner said that it was “100% social media.” He referenced their popular photoshopped pictures of celebrities wearing Michigan Waffle House merch, which Turner called “super effective in terms of repost value,” and graphics and artwork inserting Michigan Waffle House into various U-M locations like the Big House. “It’s the language of Gen Z,” Turner said about their use of social media as the campaign’s primary catalyst. “So we knew that that would be our main attacking strategy.”
The strategy has been successful: Michigan Waffle House has been featured on the University’s Barstool page and reposted on the University Instagram. The campaign’s meteoric growth and endorsements have led Turner and crew to consider pitching the idea of a Waffle House in Michigan to the corporation itself and just how much of a role their online presence would play in such a proposal. “Social media would 100% play,” Turner said. Referring to the artwork and parody celebrity endorsements on their Instagram, he added, “It’s kind of a cool, new form of marketing and cool way of using our social media platform … and as much fun as we’re having, we’re actually serious.” Turner said that “our goal this year was just to make enough noise, to build a bigger following so that … they can’t ignore us.”
And because I am also a student and a self-admitted nosy person, I couldn’t leave the call without asking what score they received on this project. “Not to brag here,” Turner said, “but I think we were the second highest rated project in the group. We did win people’s choice award in the class, though, so that was pretty cool. I think people really fell in love with the freshness, and the newness and the creativity behind it.” He was, as he had been the entire call, spot on about how the University community has received Michigan Waffle House.
“People want to be together,” Turner added before we hung up. “And want to have a similar thing that binds them together, and for us, it would be waffles.”
Daily Arts Writer Maddie Agne can be reached at email@example.com.