Bart: Bethany, thanks for joining us today.
Bethany: Yeah, thanks for having me. I’m super excited to be here.
Bart: Were you always interested in the restaurant industry or did you kind of just fall into this?
Bethany: We get asked this all of the time. It’s actually, it goes way back. So I’m fifth in a family of 10 kids. And so you can imagine eating as a group like that is a whole production. Feeding a large group never scared me, anything like that, but I actually loved it. And my mother taught me from a young age, we were very much the old school, sit down and eat family dinner. And she used to always tell us, “You guys would open up about your day. I could ask you all night long. I could ask you right after school, how’s your day? How’s your day? Nothing comes out unless you’re at the dinner table and you’re distracted by food.”
Bethany: So I’d already loved that side of it. But then the fact that you can break barriers when someone’s distracted with food almost. That sounds wrong, to distract you with food. But that’s really kind of what it comes down to.
Bart: Here’s some food. Pop!
Bethany: Yeah, you’re enjoying something so fully and having this whole immersive experience with your taste buds and everything else that you forget to guard your personality a little bit, and so you get to know people and I love people and so it was a little bit of that. And then my husband had lived in Belgium and eaten Belgian waffles there and he wanted them so badly. He’d been craving them for a year since he’d been home. And so when he asked me if we could make them, we thought, you know, after we got the recipe right we had to share it because one, we could get to know people and share that way. We were sharing with our neighbors and things like that at first and realized that I had so much joy in feeding people and just hanging out around food that it was kind of a natural progression for us to turn it into a restaurant.
Bart: Were you already working full time? Were you in school?
Bethany: In 2009 is when we started. I was pregnant with our first child and I was working full time as a banker and my husband had just left selling cars. And he had Saturdays off for the first time in our entire marriage, and I had Saturdays off with the bank, so we thought, you know what? We can actually do it. We’re ready. Let’s do Saturdays. We’ll just commit to just Saturdays. Which how foolish is that? Any startup is never just one day a week. It can’t be. So it turned into renting a commissary kitchen so that we could get all of our permitting and everything done.
Bethany: And Friday nights we were loading up, we’d borrow the in-laws’ truck, we’d bring it back, load in all of our equipment, go do the grocery shopping, make sure we had everything ready, and then at 5:00 AM Saturday morning we’re at the commissary kitchen unloading everything, making all . . . these kitchens, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen commissary kitchens, but they are basically a sink and some tables and you have to bring everything else for yourself. So we’d unload the whole truck. Then we’d set up at the farmer’s market around 7:30, 8:00 AM and then cook fresh on site at the farmer’s market. So it was a whole production that came out of it.
Bart: Now were you thinking, hey, this will be a fun side hustle on Saturdays or did you have this big vision?
Bethany: That’s how it started. It started as a little bit of a side hustle. And as we were there, I think Lance, my husband, and I work really well together and realized each other’s strengths between my bouts of running away with morning sickness and laying on the grass unable to move, which he’ll tell you were some of his favorite earliest memories. We would set up the tent, I would disappear, he would set up the tables and when I got back we’d put some more things and I would disappear and I just felt like total garbage that first pregnancy, but–
Bart: So it’s good you were a team.
Bethany: Yeah, we were a really good team working together. But then we learned, for example, there were days at the farmer’s market where we would have record numbers. We’d sell out of things before the end of the farmer’s market, and we were just on a total high.
Bethany: This is the best day. We’re high fiving each other. And as we’d go around and talk to the other booths, they were just miserable. “This is the worst farmers market. We don’t know why we’re here. This is a waste of our time. We’re spending money to be here and it’s not making us anything.” And through that I realized, especially with Lance, that we were pushing each other to kind of hustle. And that we were offering samples all the time. We were making friends, and we were selling to other vendors that were there. So we weren’t just relying on the farmer’s market to do our work for us. And so with that, I think we saw that we had something a little bit different, not just with our product, which we love, but that as a team we were fairly unstoppable, which might sound so arrogant, but that is legitimately how we felt, I think.
Bart: Like hey, we can hustle.
Bethany: We’re like, hey look, everyone else is failing and we’re doing all right here. What else is next? So at the farmer’s market that first year we booked our first wedding. We said yes without really even thinking about it. We had to go out, we had to buy all new equipment because I didn’t have enough to do a wedding for 300 people at that point. And we were just kind of winging it that first time. There were some funny moments in that first wedding. About two hours before I was supposed to be leaving for the wedding, I’d been prepping all day. I loaded up most of the car and the only thing I had left to do was core strawberries, and I had 200 pounds of strawberries that I am cutting by hand into little slices.
Bethany: I didn’t know what equipment there was. We didn’t have the money to put into equipment, and it was a catastrophe. At that moment, this absolute feeling of panic hit me, and I called my sister who was living with us at the time. I said, “Who do you know? I need people right now, like as many people as you can find.” I went out and bought a whole bunch of new little knives, and we had four or five guys come by and they were sitting there slicing up strawberries by hand for me for the next hour so that I could get out on time.
Bart: That’s amazing.
Bethany: So we definitely had some help in those beginning times. But yeah, to start out it was, let’s see what we could do with it. And I don’t think we went into it thinking, oh, we’ll just do a farmer’s market for a summer. But I don’t think we ever envisioned it being what it is today until a little bit further down the road.
Bart: Were there times in that first year that you were like, “I don’t know if this is the right thing. I kind of want to give up, I’m having a baby.”
Bethany: Yes. Towards the end of the summer, I got further along in my pregnancy. I actually hated our product. I couldn’t stand the smell of it because pregnancy hormones, so as I was making it, people are telling me, “Oh, this smells amazing.” I was just like, I hate all of you. So that was probably the only time that I really went, what are we doing? This is so dumb. I hate everything about this. And then after pregnancy ends, you realize, okay, I was a little bit dramatic. I didn’t feel good. And my husband, after the summer ended, went back to selling cars and I started bringing them in just haphazardly here and there. I’d be like, I want a waffle. We’d make for him take, you know, eight or 10 in to the store. Well, his general manager came to me and said, “Hey, could you feed our whole staff?”
Bethany: And I said, “Well, I don’t know. What are we talking?” He’s like, “We need a hundred.” And I had done the weddings. I was like, “Sure, I have the stuff. Let’s go for it. When do you want me?” And so we started feeding them almost on a monthly basis, there in the beginning. They were calling us all the time. When they hit a goal, they would call us. So for the next few years, we did a lot of corporate catering that really started in the car industry. So we’re very good at car dealership catering right now. That’s what most of my background was for a long little stretch while we had the rest of our kids.
Bart: And those repeat customers helped you kind of feel like, hey, this is becoming a business.
Bethany: Yeah, exactly. And I think that they saw us a lot more legitimately than I saw myself. But I was looking at things from my family’s standpoint where here I am hauling everything into a dealership and my kids are sitting in the playroom, reading books to each other while we’re slinging waffles for these employees. But they were wonderful. They treated us so well and we learned a lot. We learned they were pretty forgiving as to the schedule. They’re all there all day on a Saturday or on a Friday in the car industry. And so if things took a little longer we could work out some kinks. And so it was a good opportunity for us to learn a lot. And through that, that’s when we really gained our confidence of, you know what, we could do this full time. I could run a kitchen. If I had my own store, this is how I would set it up based on how those guests were being treated at the car dealership at that point.
Bart: And that was still in year one?
Bethany: That was basically years one through maybe four. Throughout that, we picked up weddings again here and there. We did a couple of breakfasts for neighborhood Christmas parties, things like that where we had to feed three or four hundred people. Those came with their own challenges. We knocked out quite a few; we popped a lot of breakers learning how our European irons work with the setup of the electrical outlets in different buildings. And so we’ve learned a lot there. Through that, we got to where we were really ready. When we moved up to Davis county in 2017, that was when we opened our first store. So it was a long time before our first physical location, but we’d basically been doing waffles every chance that we could in the meantime.
Bart: When did you kind of say, “Hey, this is a full time thing. We’re going to go for it.”
Bethany: My husband was getting his hair cut and next door to his barber shop was a space for rent. And we’d talked since the farmer’s market like, “Hey, we should probably do something with this. We should probably do some of this. You’re really good at this. I’m really good at that. We could do really good as a company. We can work for ourselves. Why aren’t we trying it?” And it always came down to, well where would you even start? And that was, I’m sure for a lot of people, it’s a big question. Where do you start with a business? So we called, just kind of on a whim, on this building just to see even if it was feasible. Because at that point, I didn’t know what commercial rents were or what to expect. So we called the landlord there, and she told us the rent amount and I got this pit in my stomach.
Bethany: I called Lance. I said, “Lance, I got off the phone with the landlord, and I think we actually have to consider this.” And he was like, “Yeah.” So that was when the ball really started rolling. And that would have been towards the end of 2016 probably when we first started talking with her. We signed our lease early in 2017 and jumped in full time to remodeling. We came into a building. It actually wasn’t even a kitchen. It wasn’t a restaurant at all. It was an embroidery shop or an alteration shop. So it had a bunch of sewing machines and a bathroom and that was about it.
Bart: Do you use those sewing machines at all?
Bethany: Well, they moved those out luckily, but then we could have really doubled down. We’ll fix your clothes and I need some waffles. No. When we went in at first, the store was a mess. The flooring was a mess. It wasn’t up to code. We had a lot of issues there in the beginning, and it was so much excitement. I think that’s what carries you through those first . . . When you first jump into building a business, it’s super difficult. You don’t really know for sure if it’s going to make it or not, but you have that what if factor and that excitement of the what if or what could be. And that’s what drove us through. So in that beginning time, Lance was still working full time and pretty crazy hours, 70, 80 hours a week at a minimum. And every day off he had, we were in the store working; we’re tearing up tile and we’re hauling out garbage. We hauled out truckloads and truckloads of crap from the storage just to get it to the bones where we could start building what we wanted.
Bethany: And then it’s working with all the departments. Make sure that the health department and the fire department and the city buildings are all done, and that was a long road and we learned a lot through then. Since then, I look back and I think about all the things we spent money on, that probably didn’t matter, because they mattered to me. And I think that was a huge lesson for us is holding on to some idea that you have in the beginning and not being flexible enough cost us a lot of money. For example, I had an idea of this menu board that we’d seen when we went to Belgium, and I just loved it. It was clean and it was bright and attractive and I wanted that. And so we bid it out, and it was pretty expensive with our sign company.
Bethany: And I told Lance, I was like, “Nope, this is what we’re going to do. This is it. I can just feel it. I just know it.” And turns out that was not a gut feeling. That was just my emotional reaction to how attractive that menu was. And then it ended up coming down within three or four months of opening. It was completely obsolete. Our guests weren’t understanding how it worked.
Bart: Oh, man.
Bethany: To someone who’s not familiar with Belgian waffles, it didn’t make sense. And I was so set on it that I refused to see that before it went up. So you definitely learn a lot in that beginning stage of all the little things that cost a lot.
Bart: So speaking of costs, how did you finance all of that? Was it profitable? Did it have plenty of money, like cash that you could use or . . .
Bethany: Let’s not sugarcoat things. We’re still not riding some big gravy train right now. It’s a process day by day. We’re watching every penny we spend, but in the beginning we had some equity in our home. And so we used that to fund our adventure.
Bethany: Probably what most people tell you not to do, but we’d done pretty well. We’d had a couple of houses we’d flipped through our marriage. And so we used the equity from that. And then we had a couple other purchases. We bought a boat at a good deal, over-financed it and used the extra. And so it all came out of that and our savings. We just kind of wiped ourselves out a little bit to get it going. But I’m sure most people who start a business will tell you it’ll take twice as long and cost twice as much as you figure it will.
Bethany: And I think we probably fell right in line with that, twice as long and twice as much. But in the end we had enough to get us going and then we stayed afloat and then we hit an awesome group of employees, and I think that helped a lot as well. We had some key players that helped us, my day shift manager right when we started because I still have kids in school. I’ve got to run and pick them up and bring them home and get all of that situated. And so we had a few key employees that really helped keep the face of our company the same that we wanted to portray to everybody. And I think that kept people coming back. It made a big difference.
Bart: Oh, that’s huge. Right? Especially with a restaurant.
Bethany: It’s hard to get any business to hire people who care about it the same way that you do. And I think that especially in the food industry, because you’re not just getting judged on your food. I could teach people all day long how to make waffles, but if all the other pieces are missing about how they’re treated and their overall experience, they’re not going to come back to us. And we had some leadership established at the shop and actually some teenagers that were just phenomenal. They stepped up, they wanted to work hard, and they were proud of what we were building. They were proud to be part of that.
Bart: How did you get them to feel that? Was it just natural? They came in and they were like, Waffled is it, or did you do anything?
Bethany: Well, I like to pretend we’re cooler than we are. I’ve always gotten along really well with our younger staff members, so they saw that I was a pretty relaxed person overall. But we did a big hiring day. I put an ad on Facebook for our neighborhood indoor yard sale. I said, “Hey, we’re hiring anyone from 14 and up. If you want an interview, come to my house.” And we had open interview time, and I really expected to have three or four kids show up. I think by the end of the night we’d interviewed 25 people. And so from there we were able to cut down. So our first staff meeting, we had 12 employees at. I feel bad sometimes for them, and as I hear people starting up businesses, they’re very concerned about employees. And that’s actually been my absolute favorite part in the last year with our store. So I employ 22 people at current.
Bart: That’s a good size.
Bethany: It’s a great staff and only one of them is over the age of 18.
Bart: Oh wow.
Bethany: So we always joke about I have my three kids at home and then I have my 20 kids at work. And when you first say that to people, they almost give you a reaction like, “Oh you poor dear.” It frustrates me because these kids work their butts off. They really do. And I think a lot of the pride that they have in Waffled comes from us showing a genuine interest in their lives. And a big key for a startup, if you’re hiring, if you’re not looking for someone who has a degree in all this stuff and you’re looking for younger staff members, showing any kind of interest in their life makes a big difference. But also letting them help you make some decisions. Because in the beginning, I didn’t know some of the problems that we’d run into, and we made them problem-solve with us and that went a long way.
Bethany: So we have waffle irons that sit at 400 degrees all day, and if you don’t make a waffle for 10 minutes, they get this sugar buildup on them. And we had to figure out how to clean that off, which at the farmers market we’d never run into ’cause we’re making them back to back to back to back, for four hours straight. So as we’re trying to figure that out, we had a couple employees that came up with great ways to help us out. And I listen to a lot of self-help and leadership books in my free time because I’m always trying to help be a better leader to our employees. And one of the ones, what part that I’ve heard in a couple of different books that really stuck with me, is not to tell people how to do things, tell them what you need from them and let them surprise you with their creative way to do it.
Bethany: And that’s been absolutely true for us with our employees. They’re stepping up to the plate because we’re showing them that we trust them to be responsible enough to do it. And then we have some fun along the way. You let the little things slide, like whipping each other with towels. And we had an employee, they stuck her pack of gum to the ceiling fan with some tape because she wasn’t sharing it with them. You know the little things, you kind of let those go, but these kids are passionate and they’re working hard and–
Bart: They know the boundaries.
Bethany: They really do.
Bart: They’re not doing that with customers, right?
Bethany: Yeah, exactly.
Bart: Whipping them with towels.
Bethany: No, and we don’t leave a lot up to their free time for them to decide what to do. It’s very clear their expectations, and I think that helps that they know what’s expected of them. They’re never unsure of how I feel about them as an employee, whether that’s the good or the bad. We’re very up front. That comes along with making them cry once in a while, things like that, which always breaks my heart a little, but they come out of it so much stronger. And so we don’t put off the hard conversations with our employees, and that has been a huge one for me. When I feel like there’s a member that is pulling our team down, there’s two options. You either need to confront them right away or we need to let them go because they’re pulling the team down. And making those quick, quick decisions when you feel it in your gut has led us to a fantastic team.
Bart: So it sounds like you’re still hustling, you’re still trying to make it work. And a you said, let’s not sugarcoat it, although with Waffled, there’s probably a lot of sugar coated.
Bethany: Literally sugar.
Bart: But was there any one moment in your journey to get where you are today with two stores and 22 employees where you felt like finally we’ve made it?
Bethany: I think it’s been gradual. We’ve had some good moments where I feel like, okay, we’re on the right track, but I don’t know if I will ever feel like we have made it until maybe I can leave for a month and it operates without me babying it. And that’s a big say, right? And it’s pretty good right now. I went . . . over the summer I took my kids on a trip for four or five days, and they do really well, but in phone contact 10 or 15 times a day and making sure that everything’s going okay. That’s an interesting question. I don’t know if I’ve really thought about at what point do I feel like we’ve made it. I’m always pushing for something bigger and something more.
Bethany: So for right now, even though we’re running a successful business, we could stop where we’re at, just run Station Park, and I think we could pat ourselves on the back and say we’d made it. I want more. So for me it’s not, “Yay, I’ve made it.” It’s “What’s next?” And that’s always the question is what’s the next decision that’s going to push us further to make Waffled not a Davis County household name but so that throughout Utah we are known for being the best at what we do.
Bart: Okay. So what’s next? It sounds like it’s dominating Utah. Expand throughout Utah. What about the rest of the country? We’ve got listeners, we call them builders, that are listening in from all over the country and some even around the world.
Bethany: Yeah, we have some, actually, we’ve met a lot of people. Station Park is a unique area because it is close to the airport, so you get a lot of people staying there. There’s a lot of tech companies that bring in international customers for us, and we have a lot of conversations with them. But a ton of people from out-of-state, and Lagoon actually drives quite a bit for us, which is nice. And as we’ve been speaking, we always have people, “Oh I live here and there’s nothing like that where you are.” And we always laugh because in Utah I would say there’s probably four big companies that do what we do. Or a version of what we do, we’ll say. And other states have never even tried a real liège Belgian waffle in their lives. We would love to be able to expand and it’s that fine balance of deciding do we do that ourselves? Do you franchise that out? And that’s part of the what’s next for Waffled is deciding how big I hold onto it myself before we include other people in it.
Bart: So if there are people interested in other states in becoming a franchisee, contact you?
Bethany: They should definitely get on our website. Email us. Let’s be in touch. Right now, we’re in a great spot where we’ve figured out our process pretty well. We’re working on training our employees. I think for any business to be successful, you need to have your people right. You need to have your process right and you need to have your product right. I think we’re on a good track for that where we could replicate it at this point.
Bart: Very cool.
Bethany: And with that we’re open to a lot of different things.
Bart: Well, one of the things that I love about basically this whole conversation is you keep on dropping local names, local regions, local businesses, and what that says to me is a big part of your success has been the relationships that you’ve had with different business owners, with your customers, with people in the local space. And I think that’s really important to recognize. For a lot of our builders, they are building a local business, a restaurant, a small shop. That’s not always the focus in today’s world.
Bethany: There’s things you’ve got to learn. You’ve got to learn about training and credit card processing and all this stuff. But one of the things I think caught me off guard, which I have enjoyed so thoroughly, is the realization that we are not making anything happen on our own. We are part of a community and we love the community. There’s close to 180 stores in Station Park and a lot of them are other food establishments, and we have phenomenal relationships with them. We truly love the people around. And a big key I think to building a business is not seeing them as a competition, because even though we’re all serving food, how many people in the area are only going to eat one type of food the rest of their life? We’re not competing to have one customer. That one customer is going to come back to Station Park, and if we all give them a good experience and we help each other out, they’re going to be there every weekend and every weekend they’re going to pick a different one of us.
Bethany: And so our success is very much a community success, and learning not to see them as the evil competition has been a huge part of our company. And even back at the farmer’s market was like that. We would go around in the mornings and hand out coupons and give all the vendors a special deal where they could get a waffle and a drink cheaper than anybody else could as a vendor because we wanted to foster those relationships early on. I’ve got a friend who runs two different restaurants at Station Park, and he’ll call us all the time and say, “Hey, we’re out of lids. Can we borrow some?” And our employees run back and forth and they help each other out.
Bethany: And it’s really building a community and a community where people come and while they’re enjoying the best waffle they’ve ever had, they also feel like they’re super well taken care of, not just by me, but by every other store that’s around them. And that’s what brings people back, and then they bring back their family members. And I cannot stress to other builders enough how important it is that you don’t cut out other businesses because you see them as competition.
Bart: Yeah, I love that collaboration. There’s a lot of opportunity there.
Bethany: So much.
Bart: And community. So one last question. If you could go back in time, what would you do differently while starting Waffled, if anything?
Bethany: That is a great question of what we would do. Yeah, there’s minor decisions here and there. Certain people, like I said, that my gut just said don’t do that, and I did and I shouldn’t have. But those are all pretty minor. I think one of the bigger changes is we probably would’ve pushed a little bit harder, a little bit sooner, seeing the success we’ve had. My husband doesn’t get so held down by this, but I know I did, is whenever you’re building a business, people will tell you why you shouldn’t. And like I said, I have 10 siblings and you can imagine–
Bart: Because they’re concerned about you.
Bethany: Exactly, and I’m sure it comes from a place of love and I appreciate it so much, but it can really eat into your psyche of, “Oh, you can’t do that. You have three kids at home.” “Oh, you can’t do this because what if nobody comes?”
Bethany: And in the end, my personality is the type that, well, what if we were wildly successful? And I would rather go to my deathbed knowing we crashed and failed then wondering what if we would’ve done better than what we did. And so I think looking back on it, we would’ve pushed sooner and maybe a little harder. And then I think maybe the one biggest part where we probably misstepped was in building that first location, not seeking out professional advice as far as leasing contracts and rents and how much you put into the business and where to put it.
Bart: There’s a lot to navigate there.
Bethany: Yeah, exactly. And we were just going off of our gut feeling of what we thought would work out, but definitely probably should’ve reached out to people who knew more than we did. Because there’s always someone who knows more than you, right? And that’s a big part of it.
Bart: Awesome advice. Bethany, we really appreciate you taking some time to come down and chat with us.
Bethany: Yeah, thanks. This has been super fun. I could talk waffles all day.
Bart: We’ll probably be following you back to Waffled, so that we can have lunch together. You shared some really interesting stories for our listeners to learn from. Builders, if you ever go to Lagoon Amusement Park in Utah, take a two minute drive detour and visit Waffled, and don’t be afraid to chat with Bethany if you see her. She’s open to new opportunities.
Bethany: Yes, always.