When Donnie Wahlberg Went To A Waffle House, He Had A Surprise That Left The Waitress Floored

During a break from touring, New Kids on the Block singer Donnie Wahlberg decided to stop by a local Waffle House for a late-night meal. And naturally, the restaurant’s star-struck staff were thrilled to be serving such a high-profile customer. But the generous Wahlberg had a surprise in store for the employees that was to make their night even more special.

Given the enormous wealth that can come with fame, it’s sometimes easy to forget that not all celebrities were born into a luxury lifestyle. Donnie Wahlberg is a case in point. Even though the singer is currently worth an estimated $20 million, the star didn’t always have a fortune to his name. In fact, his story is the very epitome of rags to riches.

Raised in Dorchester ‒ a rundown neighborhood in Boston, Massachusetts ‒ Wahlberg didn’t live in comfortable surroundings while growing up. You see, with one of the highest unemployment rates in the Boston area, Dorchester afforded Wahlberg and his family very few opportunities. And earning just enough to get by was usually the family’s biggest aspiration.

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What’s more, with nine kids, Wahlberg’s parents had a difficult time putting food on the table. Although the pair worked as servers and bar staff, they relied on food stamps to top up their earnings. Meanwhile, leftover cereal and milk that Wahlberg’s dad, Donald, gleaned from his second job as a delivery driver filled the gaps that welfare couldn’t.

Through it all, though, Wahlberg and his siblings developed an appreciation for the smaller things in life. Family dinners – which usually consisted of his father’s homemade burgers – were, in particular, a treasured part of the star’s childhood. “[It was] the one time of day that we knew we’d all be together,” the singer told Entrepreneur magazine in 2015.

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Flash forward to today, though, and Wahlberg’s life has changed remarkably. After joining pop group New Kids on the Block in 1984, the Boston native was taken out of his Dorchester surroundings and thrust onto the global stage. And in the process, he went from hand-me-downs and home-cooked meals to experiencing the luxuries that only a lucky handful enjoy.

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You see, thanks to number one singles like “Hangin’ Tough,” New Kids on the Block became one of America’s hottest pop bands. And 30 years after their first chart-topper, “I’ll Be Loving You (Forever),” the group are still going strong. But pop stardom wasn’t enough for Wahlberg, and the singer quickly began searching for new horizons.

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Yes, in 1996 Wahlberg made his film debut in Bullet before appearing alongside Mel Gibson in Ransom. Then three years later, he made an even bigger mark on the silver screen as an emotionally damaged psychiatric patient in The Sixth Sense. His acting chops proved so formidable, in fact, that he even received his own specially written role in NBC’s Boomtown in 2002.

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Despite living the high life, however, Wahlberg never lost his appreciation for the little things. And the family meals that he enjoyed as a child stuck with him even during his journey through fame. So much so, in fact, that the star has recently devoted a large chunk of his time to sharing the culinary experiences of his adolescence with the public.

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That’s right: Wahlberg has shared his own mealtime memories with the world at large via his very own food chain. Launched in 2011, the star’s Wahlburgers restaurant commemorates his family’s values. Founded by the singer, his mother, Alma, and brothers Mark – whose work as an actor you may also be familiar with – and Paul, the restaurant’s trademark burgers are based around the recipe that Wahlberg Sr. used to cook.

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For Wahlberg, his eatery is inspired by families sticking close and pulling together through tough times. “It’s about growing up in Dorchester with nine kids,” he explained to Entrepreneur. “That’s where it had to start. For our love of food, our love of family and good times. For everything we’ve been through and where we are today.”

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And with 26 restaurants currently spread across North America, Wahlburgers is now officially a franchise. But Wahlberg isn’t your standard tycoon. Indeed, “competition” seemingly isn’t a word that slots into his vocabulary; serving good food to good people is apparently all the star cares for, regardless of whether that’s at his own food chain or a rival eatery.

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Just take Wahlberg’s love of Waffle House, for example. In the past few years, the singer has made a point to stop and eat at various branches of the restaurant chain while touring with New Kids on the Block. And he’s even made a habit of uploading selfies to social media from inside each new eating house that he encounters.

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Wahlberg’s affinity for the franchise doesn’t stop at Twitter shout-outs, though. Indeed, the star regularly invites fans to post-gig after parties at the nearest convenient Waffle House. And it seems that his enthusiasm for the chain spread to his audience too. One video uploaded to YouTube following a 2009 Pittsburgh concert even shows the star leading his fans in a chant of “Waffle House.”

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But beyond Wahlberg’s love of the franchise’s food, he also shows a great deal of appreciation for each restaurant’s staff. Yes, during his visits to these outlets, the star spends a great deal of time speaking with the cooks and servers. And he films these conversations, too, before then posting the videos online for his fans to watch.

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Wahlberg is clearly very respectful of Waffle House and its staff, then. And this affability can most likely be traced back to his own experiences with the service industry. Indeed, as a restaurant owner and the son of hospitality workers, the singer knows how much a show of respect can brighten someone’s day. But even given his own innate generosity, the star really outdid himself during a visit to Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2017.

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The encounter in question happened in July of that year during the final leg of NKOTB’s “The Total Package Tour.” But after flying into the city following filming of the CBS series Blue Bloods, the star was beyond tired. He didn’t let exhaustion get him down, though, and headed straight to his beloved Waffle House for a late night meal.

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Arriving in the restaurant on Queen City Drive in the final hours of the day, Wahlberg was greeted enthusiastically by the Waffle House’s clientele. One customer named Jasmine was particularly animated and called out to the star from across the room. And rather than sneak away to eat in privacy, Wahlberg instead went over to say hello.

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Plus, not only did Wahlberg have a chat with Jasmine, but he also live streamed the whole conversation to Facebook. One of the things they talked about was the latter’s love for Blue Bloods and how she had even recommended the show to her mother. “Usually, moms hip the kids to Blue Bloods,” the singer joked. “But not Jasmine.”

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Of course, simply sharing a conversation with your favorite celebrity would be a dream come true for any fan. But Wahlberg decided to make Jasmine’s experience all the more memorable. And as the Blue Bloods enthusiast prepared to take her leave, the singer extended her a very exclusive invitation to his performance the following night.

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“She’s just… So nice,” Wahlberg said to fans watching online, “[that] we’re giving her backstage passes and tickets tomorrow.” And in keeping with her apparently kind character, the overjoyed Jasmine revealed that she’d take her mother along too. “Who gets tickets and brings their mom?” the star jested. “Only Jasmine.”

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Then, as the night continued, Wahlberg kept up the friendly patter with fans both on Facebook and in the Waffle House. And between providing updates of his NKOTB tour, the singer chatted about his filming schedule, his family and childhood memories. What’s more, he even shot some lighthearted ribs towards his brother, Mark, about the latter’s performance in 2008’s critically panned movie The Happening.

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But more than anything, Wahlberg wanted to big up the service at his beloved eatery. “This Waffle House is happening,” he gushed. “We need to come to Charlotte more often.” And it was the staff’s outlook that particularly infused the star with joy. “Everyone’s in a good mood in this Waffle House,” Wahlberg noted.

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Then, just as he had done moments earlier with Jasmine, Wahlberg extended his own token of appreciation to the staff. “We’re just going to have to invite this whole Waffle House to the concert tomorrow,” he said. And when he discovered that his server, Chocolate, had the following night off, the star couldn’t contain his excitement. “You’re going to the front row,” he declared.

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Incredibly, after only eight minutes of streaming, Wahlberg had already amassed 6,000 viewers. But despite the attentive audience, the singer was ready to sign off by the time that his meal arrived. However, he treated online fans to one last slice of Charlotte hospitality via an impromptu rendition of “Uptown Funk” sung by customers and staff alike.

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Clearly, then, Wahlberg was having the time of his life at Waffle House. And watching the action on Facebook, some audience members – like nearby fan Allison Kalama – decided to join in the fun. But after dropping by the restaurant, Kalama discovered that she was too late to meet her musical idol. However, she noticed that Wahlberg had left those in the building in an excited mood.

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“Our sweet waitress was still shaking as she delivered our coffee,” Kalama explained to CNN. And one glance at Wahlberg’s Facebook page made it clear what the star had done to leave his servers in such an elated state. You see, before leaving for the night, the singer gave another generous present to the restaurant’s staff: a jaw-dropping $2,000 tip.

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Taking to Facebook once again, Wahlberg posted a selfie with himself, the staff and his marked-up bill. Yet the servers’ beaming smiles in the photo did little to convey the excitement felt throughout the room. “They were screaming and cheering,” customer Cindy Higashi revealed to CNN. “It was very gracious and generous of him to leave such a great amount.”

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, Wahlberg’s altruism was directly inspired by his parent’s own experiences in the service industry. “My mom waited tables, and my dad tended bars – for years!” the singer captioned the photo. “So when I walk into a #WaffleHouse and the staff treats me like a king, you better believe I treat them like queens!”

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The singer’s selfie went on to rack up over 110,000 likes on Facebook, and his message impacted fans who also knew the difficulties of waiting tables. “My mom was a waitress, so I know how hard they work and how little they get paid,” commented fan Alicia Reed. And what’s more, a customer at the same Waffle House confirmed that Wahlberg made good on the backstage passes he promised for the staff.

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Meanwhile, on top of praising Wahlberg, some fans went so far as to congratulate his parents too. Recalling a time when the singer’s mother replied to her fan letter, NKOTB follower Heather Covey Cooper-Krossman stated that she knew the star had been “raised right.” “This post warms my heart and proves what I suspected back in 1989,” she wrote.

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It’s natural, of course, to think that the pop star’s donation was something of a one-off. Indeed, even stars who have money to spare can’t afford to give a four-figure tip to every server whom they meet. But this wouldn’t be the only time that Wahlberg’s generosity was to leave Waffle House staff speechless.

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Amazingly, Wahlberg left a similarly lavish tip at a Waffle House just four months later. In November 2017 the actor and his son visited Indianapolis to see his beloved Boston Celtics in action. And following his team’s victory over the local Pacers, the star celebrated by dropping by the nearest branch of Waffle House that he could find.

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Wahlberg clearly enjoyed his visit to the franchise that night, too. As Indianapolis Waffle House employee Kassandra Rhea revealed through Facebook, the star was very impressed with her and her colleagues’ service. So impressed, in fact, that he left them $1,000 to share. “This was the greatest thing he could ever have done,” Rhea wrote on the social media site. “I’m so blessed that he did that.”

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The star’s kindness didn’t stop there, though. That’s right: Wahlberg extended his gratitude to his fellow customers as well. Speaking to the Indy Star, Rhea admitted that she didn’t catch on to Wahlberg’s showbiz status until one of the families dining in the restaurant brought it to her attention. And by way of thanks for this nod of recognition, the humble celebrity paid the family’s check before leaving.

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What’s more, in a similar fashion to the star’s Charlotte showing, Wahlberg’s inspiring Indianapolis visit left fans full of praise. And the fact that the singer had done this in front of his child made followers realize how good a role model he really is. “He’s a class act, teaching his son as he goes,” wrote Lorraine Marti on Facebook. “Lovvvve him.”

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It isn’t just the NKOTB singer’s fans who’ve caught wind of Wahlberg’s Waffle House appreciation, though. Indeed, the company continues to throw shout-outs to the star on Twitter – such as in August 2018 when they wished him a happy birthday. And the food chain even asked him to celebrate National Waffle Day by making a guest appearance at their Waffle Truck.

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Waffle House has certainly given Wahlberg a lot of good times, then. And to his credit, the star has been there for his favorite chain in its darkest moments. In April 2018 a branch in Nashville, Tennessee, became the site of a fatal mass shooting. So in response, Wahlberg promoted a charity T-shirt online that raised funds for the tragedy’s victims.

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And the star’s love for the nationwide eatery has also influenced others in the showbiz world. In particular, Bruno Mars – whose track “Uptown Funk” capped off Wahlberg’s visit to Charlotte – has shown his appreciation for the restaurant chain. During a stopover in Indiana in 2017, for instance, the singer filmed himself dancing underneath a Waffle House sign.

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However, there’s clearly only one celebrity who can truly compete for the title of Waffle House’s Number One Fan. And besides showing an adorable love for late night meals, Wahlberg’s visits to the chain remind us of just how far a little generosity and kindness can go. So next time you feel like dining out, remember just how much your tip will be appreciated.

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