Welcome back to the Guest Blogger of the Week series! We’re excited to introduce our newest blogger to you today…
Dylan Stilin is a food and dessert enthusiast who scours New York City looking for the best of the best in all types of cuisine. Currently the Restaurant Editor for NYU Spoon, he is constantly on the lookout for any trucks and restaurants with great food at student-friendly prices. He can most often be found checking out and tweeting (from @DylanStilin) about new restaurants and writing about his experiences on dylanstilin.com!
Thanks for joining the ranks of the NYC Food Truck Association’s guest bloggers, Dylan!
Trucking to Mortar: A Story
The food industry is a tough business, especially in New York. Despite their best efforts, many food truck and restaurant operators struggle to get by on extremely thin profit margins. For every successful restaurant, there are numerous failures. However, restaurateurs who find a strong and sustainable model can be very successful. After achieving a certain level of success, many owners look to expand in various ways. For some, that means opening in a new city, and for others, it means branching out from truck or restaurant that brought the initial success. Expansion is always risky, but for businesses with a strong model and a great product, it typically pays off.
At a time when many restaurants are forced to close or downsize, New York mainstay Wafels & Dinges continues to expand its waffle empire. With trucks and carts scattered around the city, the owners finally took the plunge this past summer and opened their first brick-and-mortar location in the East Village. Unable to move to a new location when business is slow, the cafe has found great success with foot traffic from the local community. In fact, the cafe has been so successful that the owners decided to open a second cafe – set to open sometime in the next few weeks – in the heart of Herald Square. Many food trucks and restaurants try and fail to expand in this way, often simply fading away in the process. The minds behind Wafels & Dinges fully understand this and offer great insights into how they have achieved such incredible success.
According to GM Steven Lipschutz, popularity and exceedingly loyal customers have been keys to the success of the truck – and the new cafe. As he sees it, “people get a good product and they want it again.” But there is more to it. While drawing a loyal following with their incredible waffles and addictive Spekuloos spread, the Wafels & Dinges crew has also learned lessons that have been invaluable in their latest venture. Exorbitant rents plague businesses in New York, but starting with a truck has taught the Wafels & Dinges team how to organize and make use of limited space. When designing the cafe, the team aimed to replicate the look and feel of the trucks while using space as efficiently as possible. Step foot in the shop and you will quickly notice that the space is utilitarian in the best possible way. From the simple counter to the merchandise and waffle memorabilia on the walls, every detail adds to the fun and delicious experience.
Having made the transition from food truck to restaurant, Lipschutz believes that it would be much harder to go from restaurant to truck. While fixed-cost is a key consideration for restaurants, many restaurateurs forget about all of the costs – inspections, maintenance, accidents, etc. – associated with operating a food truck. While operating a restaurant may not be easier than operating a food truck, Lipschutz disproves “a popular misconception that food trucks are easier than restaurants.” Ultimately, neither is easy, but Wafels & Dinges has managed to succeed in both by staying true to a deliciously simple concept. Done right, waffles are not just tasty, but also profitable.