As the rain and wind started to bear down on Wilmington before dusk, and all the big-box stores, restaurants and gas stations were dark, the lights were still on at the Waffle House.
“We’re not closing unless it gets unsafe — if the hurricane pulls off the roof or breaks the glass,” said Matt, a Waffle House employee who stood under an awning outside the Market Street location to greet a stream of families and loners, locals and out-of-towners.
As usual, cooks cracked eggs and slung hash browns on the grill top. Servers poured coffee with a “There you go, sweetie.”
But many of the employees were not local. Part of the Waffle House “jump team,” they were brought in from other states to cover during the emergency.
The store had a limited menu. Eggs were just scrambled, not over easy or sunny side up. Hash browns were not scattered, smothered, covered, chunked or topped.
After securing his deck furniture and filling his bathtub with water, Charles Ezzell, 77, a barber who owns a retail shopping center, ordered an All-Star Special breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, grits and wheat bread with strawberry jelly.
“I’m really thankful for the Waffle House,” he said as he sipped his coffee. “They’ll be open around the clock.”
Outside, Christopher Phillips, 45, a homeless man who calls himself Crazy J, and Brandi DiCello, a 29-year-old who ended up stranded in Wilmington without her wallet as she tried to connect with her mom and daughter, sheltered under the awning.
They had nowhere to go. The shelters, they said, wouldn’t take in people without ID cards.
“I’ve only got 10 dollars left,” Phillips said. “The Red Carpet [Inn] is charging $95 a night.”
Eventually, he went up to Matt, the Waffle House employee, with a question: Could they stay the night at the Waffle House once the hurricane started to hit?