In the ashes of The Boot is rising a mini empire of quirky-yet-comforting, unique-to-Norfolk restaurants and pop-ups that are starting to change the way this city sees the restaurant experience.
Following the quick success of Handsome Biscuit and Field Guide, David Hausmann and John Porter–both formerly of The Boot–give you Waffletina, a Belgian/Liege waffle sandwich shop that will start as a series of pop-ups, but will, hopefully, ultimately morph into a stand alone business.
“We have a desire to see some of our ideas come true, but we know we don’t have the sheer time to actually make them all come to fruition,” said Hausmann. “It’s about empowering the people who have the same passion as us and fostering them along the way.”
The ‘tina’ in Waffletina is Cristina Angelo, a former isotope salesperson who, in the wake of a lay off, has decided to put her energy into her passion. She’s spent the past two years perfecting the recipe at her home kitchen. Since the lay off she’s been working at Field Guide and gearing up for Waffletina.
“I had never worked in a kitchen or restaurant industry,” she said. “It’s a big learning curve. The first couple weeks were rough. I really love it. I haven’t looked back at all.”
There’s a lot to look forward to. Waffletina, which already had a successful run at the 35th St. Better Block, will hold their next event at The Birch this Thursday from 6pm until the waffles run out. They’ll be serving waffles and pulled pork; waffle Reuben; peanut butter marmalade waffles; and goat cheese with pistachios and honey waffles. It’ll all be around a $6.50 price point, with stand-alone waffles being at about $3.
Hausmann and Porter originally wanted to make Handsome Biscuit a waffle place, but, given the equipment in hand after The Boot, biscuits were a more clear path to an open business.
“When we started Handsome Biscuit we were thinking we need to do whatever is the least cost barrier to entry,” Hausmann said. “It was a conscious effort to stop taking arrows. That’s what drove Handsome Biscuit. Looking at cuisine that was well understood and established that we could be playful in.”
And play they have. Field Guide and Handsome Biscuit have to be two of the most Instagram’ed restaurants in Virginia, with enthusiastic Facebook followings as well. When the weather is nice they open the big door at Field Guide; it’s a scene, man.
“Handsome Biscuit is intimate, craveable, and rowdy,” Hausmann said. “It’s because of its rowdiness it becomes refreshing to people. We need to start steering away from the business model approach that aims to please everyone. It creates a monoculture of retail and that’s why people turn to the Internet for a social experience, because it’s much more the wild wild west. When we are constantly worried about who we’re going to offend we safeguard everything and it’s much harder to develop a fanatical love for your product because you made it mediocre in your quest to please everybody.”
Adding a waffle shop run by the dynamic Angelo adds not just to their burgeoning mini empire, but to the community vibe at large.
“It’s about opening people’s minds to what’s possible,” Hausmann said. “It’s not raising the sophistication, but injecting some enthusiasm into the food scene. Making it an actual talking point based on positivity rather than sourness.”
Malia Paasch, owner of The Birch, sees Waffletina as part of a bigger movement.
“One of the most exciting things happening in Norfolk right now is that businesses are starting to specialize, which means consumers will be getting better quality products from knowledgeable people,” she said. “Places like Pendulum, Welton’s Seafood, Handsome Biscuit, Cafe Stella, Westside Produce and Provisions, are all businesses that come to mind that focus on their core products, and supporting that kind of culture in Norfolk is important.”
According to Angelo the waffles are more like brioche bread than American-style Belgian waffles. Whatever they are, they’re incredibly tasty. Beyond The Birch event there are plans for three or four more pop-ups; dates and locations will be announced just prior to the events.
Angelo herself has gone from isomopey to wafflestokey.
“My customers could have gotten isotopes from me or our competitor,” she said. “I wasn’t really contributing to the world in any way. This is an opportunity to add to Norfolk’s personality and community.”