According to an article titled “Serving up chicken and waffles,” Los Angeles Business Journal, September 22, 1997 (p.1):
“As unusual as it might seem, the marriage of chicken and waffles actually has deep roots. Thomas Jefferson brought a waffle iron back from France in the 1790s and the combination began appearing in cookbooks shortly thereafter. The pairing was enthusiastically embraced by African Americans in the South. For a people whose cuisine was based almost entirely on the scraps left behind by landowners and plantation families, poultry was a rare delicacy; in a flapjack culture, waffles were similarly exotic. As a result, chicken and waffles for decades has been a special-occasion meal in African American families, often supplying a hearty Sunday morning meal before a long day in church…”
It is interesting to note that this combination and/or recipe does not appear in What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, Abby Fisher, 1881. Mrs. Fisher was a former slave and her book is generally considered the first cookbook written by an African-American. These foods appear (but not together) in Mrs. Porter’s Southern Cookery Book, Mrs. Porter, 1871.
Wells Restaurant in Harlem, New York City is generally regarded as the home of chicken and waffles. This restaurant opened in 1938 and was a very popular during the Harlem Renaissance.
“No appetites are safe from the magnificent Southern Creole cuisine when visiting Wells restaurant, located uptown in the Big Apple. Famous for more than their chicken and waffles, Wells entertains customers with Caribbean flair and a frenzy of live music. Harlem hasn’t been the same since Wells opened in May 1938. The owner, Elizabeth Wells, is determined to bring people a humble, homey atmosphere with exciting home-style cooking, but with a twist of island flavor and a lot of fun. Joseph T. Wells, the late husband of Wells, had a record of cooking techniques in the mix. Working as a waiter and manager of a restaurant in Florida, Joseph took his craft to New York during the late 1920s. It was inevitable for the young entrepreneur to start his business and, by the spring of 1938, the restaurant bearing his name opened its doors. Elizabeth Wells entered the picture later. They married in 1966, even though she had joined the establishment in 1963. The married couple produced a son named Tommy Wells. With an avalanche of victory for the restaurant, Wells bloomed as one of the greatest hot spots in Harlem, with a bevy of entertainers who dropped in…Wells has been spinning the wheels of the restaurant with tip-top soul food and no regrets….”
—”For 60 Years, Wells has Nourished the Harlem Community,” New York Amsterdam News, April 8, 1999 (p.27)