ATLANTA — Thomas Francis Forkner Sr., who jumped from selling real estate to the restaurant business when he co-founded Waffle House in the 1950s, has died less than two months after the death of his business partner who recruited him to help launch the famous Southern diner chain.

Waffle House said that Forkner died Wednesday at age 98. He grew up in DeKalb County just outside Atlanta, and returned there to sell real estate after serving as an Army intelligence officer during World War II.

Forkner sold a house to his neighbor, Joe Rogers Sr., who worked for the Toddle House restaurant chain. Rogers persuaded Forkner to join him in starting a restaurant of their own. They opened the first 24-hour Waffle House in the Atlanta suburb of Avondale Estates on Labor Day in 1955.

They opened a second location two years later, and they kept building the business over the next two decades. Under Forkner and Rogers, the Waffle House chain grew to 400 restaurants by the late 1970s.