Even without official New Year’s resolutions, it’s fair to say that most of us enter January with the urge to improve and take control of our lives. Maybe that’s why, on the eve of 2023, we were so enamored of a Waffle House cook who stood tall in a melee with raging customers, as seen in video that revealed how harrowing a roadside diner’s overnight shift can be.
The chaos documented was always bound to take its place in the extensive lore of a storied chain of 24-hour restaurants dotting the highways of the American South. Specializing in hearty breakfasts, Waffle House is known for staying open during hurricanes, offering respite to weary travelers or intoxicated locals with nowhere else to eat in the wee hours of the morning — and bearing witness to the collapse of social order. Yet this time, fight footage elevated one participant to mythic status, leading to an explosion of awestruck headlines, memes, fan art, and commendations from some surprising places.
The viral moment comes at the 1:40 mark of the two-minute clip, when, during a brawl, a blonde woman in an apron behind the counter easily deflects a chair thrown at her, in the manner of a martial arts master bored by so obvious an attack. When her assailant picks up another chair, she smiles and raises both hands in a gesture of clear incitement: bring it on. That chair, too, she casually swats aside.
Though nicknamed “Waffle House Wendy” by impressed observers, the quick-handed cook’s real name is Halie Booth.
“I was sitting at home eating popcorn, watching Hulu,” Booth tells Rolling Stone in a phone call. “My boyfriend called me from work and said I was on the news.” She didn’t believe it, but he assured her she was trending on Twitter — so she made an account. “That’s me,” she instantly realized. “Why is this video back up?” After all, she relates, the fight had happened more than a year ago.
Booth explained as much in a YouTube response to the internet’s jokes and memes about the footage, which came from an Austin, Texas restaurant. The incident took place around September 2021 — not this past Christmas, as indicated by several accounts that shared the video.
Having worked at Waffle Houses on and off for four years, Booth had attained the high rank of “Rock Star Grill Operator,” and was on a graveyard shift when — after last call for bars in the area — several customers came in and tried to sit in a closed-off area of her restaurant, she recalled in her YouTube “Story Time.” They grew increasingly belligerent after she told they would have to wait to be seated elsewhere and that many people had orders in ahead of them. Finally, fed up with their disrespect, she refused to cook for the group and invited them to leave.
That’s when things turned physical, Booth said in her video, with customers flipping plates and storming behind the counter, at which point employees are authorized to protect themselves as they see fit.
“That’s how night shift works, and it’s sad. Because there are no security guards, there are guns that get pulled out at Waffle House,” Booth said on YouTube. “There’s bullet holes in some Waffle Houses that I’ve worked at.”
An unfortunate situation for employees and rule-abiding customers alike (“Bro, I just want my waffles!” one can be heard complaining before the argument erupts into violence), but Booth’s fearless attitude and lightning reflexes sparked admiration from many corners. They also drove a discussion of the abuse that service industry workers are made to endure for low wages — and how Waffle House employees are particularly battle-hardened, always ready to throw down if they have no other choice.
“As a former Waffle House grill op myself, I just want to say girl you are my hero!” reads a YouTube comment on Booth’s video. “I never knew how to deal with people like that. You handled yourself so well. People think they can act however they want without consequences and you showed them they were wrong.” Another supporter launched a GoFundMe whose proceeds will go directly to Booth, to be spent at her own discretion. It’s raised over $11,000 so far. “I love Waffle House and I hate to see hardworking people like her being put in situations like this,” the organizer stated on page.
“What people forget is that during 2020,” Booth says, when everything was shut down for Covid-19, food service workers were considered “essential” along with first responders. Without them, “you would have to go home and cook your own chicken nuggets.”
“People look at food service workers as, for lack of a better term, nothing but the help, and they look down on them,” Booth says. She hopes that her experience can encourage customers to “look at these people with respect and like a human being.” The video, she feels, also proves that late-night workers need more security, “especially after last call for these bars.”
“If we can get more help for those workers on that night shift, give them some sort of protection, they can stop the fight before it happens,” she says.
But artists and meme creators showed their appreciation for Booth’s composure in a volatile situation, transforming her into an anime-style action hero. MMA commentator Steve Inman added some ringside flavor with an audio remix. Actress Lynda Carter quipped, of a Wonder Woman scene where she knocks out a villain who tries to hit her with a chair, “I trained at Waffle House.”
“It absolutely blows my mind the amount of love and support I’ve been getting,” Booth tells Rolling Stone. “That people take my face and make it art, it’s an honor.” And about the combat style that wowed the nation: “I actually would love to get some real training,” she says. “I only know just those basics. My stepdad taught me how to throw the first punch.” As a kid, she “would watch Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali and shadowbox them.”
After the now-infamous altercation ended and police arrived — making no arrests — the Waffle House staff was left to clean up a giant mess, according to Booth, and another manager showed up to review the security tapes. He wrote Booth up for breaking a glass sugar shaker by throwing it at a woman who had jumped on the counter. Otherwise, he was satisfied that she’d done nothing wrong. She quit soon after anyway. “I’m not gonna risk my life over some waffles,” she says. “The fight had kinda shaken me up because of how big it was.”
“When I left, they had told me, ‘You’re always welcome at this store,’” Booth recounted in her YouTube monologue. Though in applying to work at a different Waffle House in North Carolina in 2022, she learned she’d been “blacklisted” by the chain and could never work for them again. Nevertheless, she defended her former employer: “It’s a great company, they take care of their employees, most definitely. Don’t bash them whatsoever.” (Waffle House did not respond to a request to confirm or deny whether they’ve blacklisted Booth.)
“I have not been in contact with them, I don’t even know if they have my current phone number,” Booth says when asked if Waffle House reached out after the fight video went viral. “I don’t want to drag them through the dirt,” she insists, adding that if they were to open a location in San Antonio — where she and her boyfriend currently live — she’d be happy to work there. Currently, though, she’s looking to get out of the food industry, and “riding the wave” of her newfound celebrity. “I’m working with artists on T-shirts,” she says, most likely branded “Waffle Warrior” to avoid copyright issues. With the money she’s received, she’s “looking into donating to help with domestic violence victims, and putting a little bit more of it to my son’s college fund.”
Somewhat unusually for this day and age, Booth is enjoying kudos from across the political spectrum, from leftists who champion the working class to none other than Tucker Carlson. The Fox News host had Booth on his show Tuesday night to discuss the brawl, leading some of Booth’s fans to fear that she would become a “milkshake duck” — someone who quickly falls from the internet’s favor due to problematic associations or comments.
Instead, she acquitted herself well, sticking to the basic facts and informing an incredulous Carlson that she had not even pressed charges against the customers who attacked her. (So far, Booth is in the clear. The same cannot be said for Carlson, whose “news” program is steeped in white nationalist ideology. And it’s more than fair to question whether Carlson would be so excited about Wafflehouse Wendy had been a Black woman in a fight with white customers.)
Booth found it “intimidating” to appear in the Carlson segment, given the reach of his platform. “I kinda felt like I was trying to be pulled into something political,” she says, whereas what happened at Waffle House “wasn’t political” in the slightest, nor was she looking to frame it that way.
“I appreciate him having me on the show and being able to say a little on it,” she adds.
Despite all this commotion, Booth has has made time for herself. She and her boyfriend drove two hours on New Year’s Eve to the Austin restaurant where the fight took place, sitting down as customers. “We sat and talked with people there, one of them I used to work with in Louisiana,” Booth says. Others present “were looking at me at like, ‘she looks familiar,’” and when she visited a nearby vape shop, employees remarked, “you look like that girl in that fight.”
Such is the life of 2023’s first viral folk hero, a woman who has inspired untold thousands to face down the odds and give as good (or better) than you get. Even her favorite Waffle House order sounds like the breakfast of champions.
“My favorite thing to order,” Booth says, “is the Texas bacon chicken melt with a side of hash browns smothered, chopped, and lightly peppered.”