On the day of its grand opening, the lunch rush hit hard.
Employees were on their feet throughout the day, standing outside the shop to hand out free samples of fresh Belgian Liege waffles to lines of curious customers. Valley Mall shoppers caught a whiff of the one-of-a-kind treats the moment they walked in, attracting them to the little red and blue waffle shop right away.
On March 9, Waffle Yum, the bright blue food truck, opened its new brick and mortar location at Valley Mall. Owner Dave Eaton looks back on the weekend, pleased with the high turnout.
“You always have mixed emotions — excited, kind of nervous all in one,” Eaton said. “But everyone enjoyed the waffles. There were a lot of people who worked in the mall who came and checked us out and heard great reviews from customers and all the employees there.”
Eaton and his wife, Renae, started the truck about a year and a half ago and have been considering opening a shop since November. Over the past year, they carefully considered the shop’s theme colors and layout, attempting to match the cheerful, pastel palette of the truck. They chose Valley Mall because it’s ideal for foot traffic — a key factor for Eaton. He hopes to grow the customer base and expand more than anything else.
Eaton said one thing that makes his life easier is that the shop is only open on weekends. Since the truck will continue to attend events such as Food Truck Fest in April, the shorter hours will make the business less complicated to handle. He may consider adding a few more days in the future.
Jules Oehrlein, a senior athletic training major and Waffle Yum employee, thinks that with a solid foundation, Waffle Yum will become more widely known in Harrisonburg. She expects more customers than ever before due to the two outlets.
“I definitely think it’s easier to know about it and have a set location with the hours,” Oehrlein said. “It’ll be easier for people to know. It’s cool to see it expanding and to be a part of it growing.”
Within the shop, space makes all the difference. Looking back at working in the truck, Oehrlein and coworker junior finance and management major Brian Vo recall the chaos that ensued with the little space employees had to work in. They remember a hot, confined area where they were constantly bumping into each other. Now, they’re able to enjoy a breathable and larger workspace with air conditioning — another amenity the truck didn’t provide.
The physical barrier between the staff and its customers has been broken. The Waffle Yum staff is now able to see customers without having to open a slidable window. Being face-to-face with the community has led to more personal interactions.
“We’ve definitely experienced a lot more interesting and more flavorful encounters with the different types of people who walk around here,” Vo said.
Eaton, Oehrlein and Vo agreed that more customers — new and old — can eat at Waffle Yum because of its stable location. Harrisonburg resident Hannah Altman, a long-time customer and waffle lover, showed up in the first hour it opened. She’d been waiting for its grand opening since its Facebook announcement in February.
“[My husband and I] told them, ‘We’ve been waiting for this day and are so excited to be here,’” Altman said. “I also love how they did the shop in the mall. I think it looks really great.”
The only difference in the menu is that there’s coffee at the store. Other than that, customers will be able to enjoy their favorite waffle at either location. Since the shop has set hours, people will be able to eat it for breakfast with choices like the Egg & Bacon Waffle, brunch with the Heath Waffle and dessert with the Elvis Waffle.
For Eaton, there’s one goal in mind: just keep expanding. He wants to fully embrace the Harrisonburg community. With the shop open and the truck traveling to local events, more customers will be visiting each place.
“It’s close to us, it’s open more often, I can get it more frequently and I’m excited for them as a business,” Altman said. “I think they make a real quality product, so I’m excited that it’s growing, and I’d like to be a part of helping it grow.”
Contact Kailey Cheng at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.