Waffles are the new dosas. Or the new momos. The golden honeycomb crust, once confined to the dessert menu of a five-star hotel or a high-end eating joint, has now moved out of a plush ambience to settle inside a roadside eatery. The mushrooming of waffle joints across the country—in both metros and small cities—is testimony to the growing popularity of this ‘any-time’ snack, which is now offered in many interesting avatars for anyone looking for a quick indulgence.
As a dessert, a waffle is somewhere between a freshly-baked cake and a drool-worthy ice cream. “Waffles were always part of the hotel culture, an exclusive product, most often part of Sunday brunches. They weren’t ever available next door. But all that has changed in the past two years,” says chef Sabyasachi Gorai (popularly known as Saby), who curated the menu of New Delhi-based Drool Waffles, which opened its first outlet in 2014 in Saket in the national capital, and has since expanded to four more outlets in the city. They offer waffles priced `110-`299. “Today, the market is evolving, as Indians are eating out more. As a result, waffles have become accessible and popular,” he says.
It’s this popularity that drove 29-year-old Ayush Malik to open waffle eateries in Vikaspuri and Janakpuri in New Delhi in 2017. “I was looking at launching a new business. Having a waffle joint in the neighbourhood was a new concept and the trend of eating waffles was catching up among Indians,” says Malik. His outlet Waffle Street is one of the five waffle joints in a one-and-a-half-km radius in Vikaspuri in west Delhi, and offers waffles priced at Rs 190-Rs 270. “On an average, I get around 60-80 customers a day. The business is good, so I opened a second outlet (in Janakpuri) within a few months of launching the first one,” says Malik, who worked in event management before opening Waffle Street.
Malik is just one of the many people who have recognised that there’s a market for this delicious dessert as a street food. Another such entrepreneur is Mumbai-based Shrey Agarwal. An engineer-turned-food entrepreneur, it was Agarwal’s intense desire to replicate a waffle he tasted while working in Manila, Philippines, that led him to quit his job in 2014 and return to India to open the first outlet of Belgian Waffle Co in 2015 in Bandra, Mumbai. Today, Belgian Waffle Co, which offers waffles priced `110-`150, has 100 outlets across the country in cities such as Chennai, New Delhi, Bengaluru, etc, including 80 franchises.
Agarwal now plans to expand to new markets such as Kolkata and Jaipur. “From a single store to this level… it’s due to the all-round satisfaction of our customers, an efficient supply chain and our marketing model,” says the 28-year-old.
Interestingly, it’s not just homegrown joints that are making a mark in the business. International brands, too, are making an entry into the country’s waffle market. Popular Russian waffle chain WAFL entered the Indian market through a joint venture with India-based MBC Hospitality, which works in the hospitality trade business. They opened the first outlet in January this year in New Delhi. “We initiated plans to open WAFL in India in 2017 when we visited Russia,” says Rajeev Chawla, executive partner, WAFL India. Currently, WAFL, which offers waffles priced Rs 180-Rs 270, has five outlets in New Delhi, Bengaluru and Surat, with plans to expand to Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Pune, Chandigarh and Chennai. “We are looking at 50 outlets in India by the end of 2018,” says Chawla. Internationally, WAFL has 60 QSR outlets across the world, including in the US, Qatar, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, Mongolia, etc. When they decided to bring WAFL to India, though, certain tweaks were made to the menu. “After the initial tie-up, we Indianised all the ingredients and pre-mixes to make them eggless, and developed the packaging, etc, in India.”
Not just WAFL, other players, too, are innovating to win over the Indian palate. Several waffle joints in New Delhi and Mumbai offer the waffle not just as a dessert, but also as a savoury snack. You can choose from a chicken tikka, peri peri mushroom or sautéed vegetable waffle. For lovers of Mexican cuisine, waffle quesadillas are offered by Waffle World in Secunderabad, while the health-conscious can choose from a buckwheat buttermilk waffle or a wholewheat sesame seeds waffle at Waffle House in Bengaluru. Then there is Waffle Wallah in Kolkata, which serves ‘pizza waffles’ with a variety of toppings priced Rs 150 onwards.
Even as a dessert, the waffle is undergoing a makeover. On offer are ‘bubble’ waffles (waffles with a bubble-shaped crust), waffles shaped like cones and even fish-shaped waffles. Some outlets such as Wafflicious in Mumbai serve bubble waffle cones with cream, chocolate sauce and nuts, while others in the same city such as WowFillss serve these as cones with scoops of ice cream.
Though there are no market figures, industry insiders say there are currently around 400-odd waffle outlets in the country, with a majority being stand-alone joints. Since a waffle is easy to prepare and has a low food cost, it becomes an ideal choice for a new restaurant venture, say experts. “It’s an easy-to-enter business because of the low barrier of entry. It’s a successful and attractive model that has, so far, worked well for us,” says Agarwal of Belgian Waffle Co, adding that their current turnover is `30 crore, which they expect to reach `150 crore by next year.
The quick-service model employed by most waffle kiosks also makes it a popular business option as it’s not investment-heavy. “I spent around `10-`15 lakh on setting up Waffle Street (in Vikaspuri, Delhi), which has a seating capacity of five-seven. In less than a year, I have recovered my initial investment,” says Malik.
Agrees Chawla of WAFL India: “For an outlet of WAFL, the investment cost is `25 lakh,” he says. WAFL is targeting `60 crore in revenue by the end of this year. In the next three years, the company plans to have 250 stores across India, with a revenue target of Rs 200 crore.
Clearly, the warm crispy waffle has not only won the hearts of many, but is also helping fulfill many entrepreneurial dreams.