This is the famous Waffle House where Alexis Ohanian decided a law career wasn’t for him. Instead, he founded social media giant Reddit in 2005, the year he graduated from UVA. (Photos by Erin Edgerton, University Communications)
This is a story about waffles, Reddit, fantasy football and more waffles. Twenty-four more waffles.
It starts with University of Virginia graduate and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and ends with a first-year horn player powering through a hilarious challenge you may never have heard of.
In an email to UVA Today, Ohanian was reflective about both the story and how a single waffle, consumed in Booth 19, changed his life.
“That was a very special meal for me because I was 30 minutes into [an] LSAT. I looked around and everybody in the room was miserable, and I thought ‘You know what? It’s early and I’m hungry. I’m getting the heck out of here.’
Ohanian’s order tip: “If you’re getting some hash browns, I like them diced and capped. I get them cooked a little bit extra crispy – and smothered and covered!” That means ordering them topped with onions and melted cheese.
“I got up, walked out that door, went to that Waffle House on 29, sat in that booth, and as I was sitting there eating my waffle, I had an epiphany, because Waffle House is great for both the waffles and the epiphanies,” he wrote.
In that moment, Ohanian realized he didn’t want to be a lawyer. He wanted to start a company. He would launch Reddit the same year he graduated from UVA in 2005.
Ohanian also gave a shout-out to UVA’s current students.
First-year student Ibraheem Qureshi finished last in his fantasy football league. His punishment: The 24-Hour Waffle House Challenge. You stay in a Waffle House for 24 hours or “It’s one hour off for every waffle you eat,” he said.
“It’s a special, special place and for all the students who are there right now enjoying it, please know that the memories you make there, you will carry for the rest of your life. I try to make it back every year at least once and it’s always a delight! Not just to go back to the Waffle House – although I do that – but to go back on Grounds. UVA & Charlottesville are very special places, so enjoy it while you’re there and Wahoowa!”
Ohanian’s monumental Waffle House moment was immortalized at the end of April when Waffle House division manager Derick Moore oversaw the installation of a plaque at Booth 19. It reads, in part, “Waffle House changed my life. … I was going to be a lawyer. and [sic] then I walked out of the LSAT to go get breakfast there. I never looked back.”
During our afternoon visit to the Waffle House on Route 29, the thoroughfarethat leads to UVA from points north and south, a young man sat quietly at a booth and appeared to be studying. We approached him and learned he was a first-year student at UVA.
Why are you here? “I lost fantasy football, so I’m doing the ‘24-Hour Waffle House Challenge’ right now,” Ibraheem Qureshi said.
Under terms of the challenge, participants must remain at the Waffle House for 24 hours, but can take one hour off that total for each waffle they consume, he explained. “I’ve been here since about 11:50 a.m. I’m at seven right now.”
Qureshi does not recommend his initial approach. “It was, ‘Start off strong,’” he said. “The first hour I got four waffles. I went too hard.”
Don’t do that.
“I’m kind of taking it slow. It’s one waffle at a time right now,” he said.
Waffle House is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Its specialty is obviously waffles, and they serve them up in many ways. There are pecan waffles, chocolate chip waffles, blueberry waffles and peanut butter chip waffles. The vanilla-sweet scent of waffles blasts your olfactory nerve as soon as you step inside.
But Qureshi was eating them straight, no chaser. Unless you count water as a chaser. “Just plain,” he reasoned. “I think the flavor adds more calories and takes up more space in your stomach.”
Moore, the division manager, said he’s seen lots of people try to complete the Waffle House Challenge. “Last year, we did it with Chris Long,” he said. As in Chris Long, 2008 UVA graduate and NFL football great. “He lost a bet, so he ran his podcast from the store,” Moore said. (One of the guests on Long’s “Green Light” podcast that day was NFL defensive line coach Mike Waufle.)
But back to Qureshi. At the pace he was going, he figured he’d be out of there by at 4:50 a.m. He’d originally set up camp at a four-top. But he moved to a smaller booth. “I moved because I needed to charge my phone and the outlet was here,” he said, pointing to his charging cord.
When we explained that we were there to do a story on the Ohanian plaque, he seemed to perk up from his waffle coma. He’d noticed it earlier in the day and said it gave him a twinge of inspiration. “I’m like trying to prepare for my future,” he said. Gesturing to Booth 19, Qureshi continued, “Like he did it. He thought of Reddit. I can do it, too.”
Qureshi, a member of the Cavalier Marching Band, was studying for his last exam in biostatistics. The baritone horn player’s eyes brightened when a clutch of his band family made a surprise visit to cheer him on, as we made our exit.
How did his Waffle House Challenge end?
He shared an email update. “I ended up leaving the Waffle House at 8:50 p.m. The commissioner of our fantasy league was kind and allowed some of the waffles that my friends who visited me [ate] to count towards my total, so I only ended up spending nine total hours there,” he wrote.
Qureshi’s final tally was 15 waffles eaten – 11 by him, four by others. “I was very happy to leave, but I was very tired and fell asleep pretty soon after getting back to my dorm.”