A quest to serve authentic Belgian waffles at his wedding led one entrepreneur and his business partner to create a quick-service waffle concept that just received funding for nationwide expansion on TV’s “Shark Tank.”
Press Waffle Co., the Dallas-based brainchild of brothers Bryan and Caleb Lewis, received $300,000 in exchange for 15% of the business from investor Barbara Corcoran. Through the show, Corcoran has previously invested in restaurant brands Cousins Maine Lobster and Tom + Chee.
Neither of the Lewis brothers had a restaurant pedigree—Bryan was a theater teacher and Caleb was studying accounting at the University of Texas—before their waffle adventure began.
“We were a little self-conscious about the fact we didn’t have a food background,” Bryan Lewis told Restaurant Business. “It’s become one of our greatest strengths.”
A couple of years ago, Bryan Lewis and his soon-to-be wife traveled through Europe, where they fell in love with Liege waffles, those indulgent, dough-based snacks that are studded with caramelized clusters of Belgian pearl sugar.
“I’d never tasted anything like this in my life,” he said. “I ate them all summer. We wanted to have a waffle bar at our wedding, but we couldn’t find anyone who could make them. So, we started making them in my kitchen.”
After some trial and error, the Lewises perfected the recipe. Unlike batter-based waffles, Liege waffles are made out of yeasted dough that takes 24 hours to proof. The pearl sugar melts and caramelizes in the waffle iron.
“You get a sweet crunch in every bite,” Bryan Lewis said.
Press Waffle Co. offers 16 to 20 toppings, including sweet sauces, fresh fruit and whipped cream. There are also savory waffle options, and the chain is expanding into waffle sandwiches to boost lunch business. The average ticket time is just over a minute.
“That customizability is what’s really fun for our guests,” he said. “We like to view this as a sweet treat for any time of day. It’s been more of a dessert thing.”
But the stores have also seen consistent late-night business, he said: “It’s great drunk food. Drunk people love building their waffle.”
Press Waffle Co. began as a food truck and currently has three food hall/mall units in Texas, with a fourth slated to open in coming weeks in Oklahoma City.
The concept is working with a franchise consultant as it grows, with hopes to open four company-owned stores this year and 10 franchised locations in the next several months.
After Press Waffle Co.’s “Shark Tank” episode aired late last month, the two have heard from hundreds of people interested in franchising opportunities, they said.
Press Waffle Co.’s food hall units operate at just a few hundred square feet, though the company is plotting a stand-alone cafe model that’s 1,400 square feet.
“The great thing about our business model is it’s super simple,” Bryan Lewis said. “From the very beginning of this company, we knew we wanted to go on “Shark Tank.” … The exposure is the greatest thing.”