Strike while the waffle iron is hot

A bit of TV-watching has led Karen Baker and Tim Barrett to a new business.

Wannawafel founder Renaat Marchand

Wannawafel founder Renaat Marchand

A bit of TV-watching has led Karen Baker and Tim Barrett to a new business.

The Red Deer couple are in Victoria this week to learn about making and selling waffles — Belgian Liège waffles to be exact. They’ve purchased the local franchise for Wannawafel, a business that gained national exposure last year when it was featured on CBC’s Dragons’ Den.

Founder Renaat Marchand and his son transported their mobile waffle cart from Victoria to Toronto for the show, and then served samples of their product to the investment moguls who star on Dragons’ Den. They were rewarded with an enthusiastic thumbs-up and two offers for a share of the business.

Although a handshake deal with Boston Pizza International Inc. owner Jim Treliving was never consummated with a formal contract, Wannawafel’s favourable review on prime-time TV generated inquiries from thousands of viewers — including Baker and Barrett.

“In a couple weeks we heard back,” said Baker, adding that an interview and face-to-face meeting followed.

Not only were they impressed with the taste of Wannawafel waffles, the married couple felt drawn to Marchand, his business partner Richard Larkin, and their families.

“That was what got us,” said Baker.

Larkin said he and Marchand received more than 3,500 franchise inquiries and applications. They’ve issued 10 franchises to date, with these scattered from Kelowna, B.C. to Halifax, N.S.

“Several people have wanted the Red Deer market,” said Larkin.

About 15 Wannawafel carts could be serving Canadians this year, with expansion into the United States and beyond a possibility thereafter.

“We’ve actually had inquiries, from not only the U.S. and Canada, but other countries around the world who apparently watch Dragons’ Den,” said Larkin. “We’ve had calls from as far away as Dubai, Singapore and Malaysia.”

Marchand, who moved to Canada from his native Belgium a decade ago, has been operating a Wannawafel cart in Victoria the past two years. His family has also opened a waffle store there.

“People have never had a waffle like this in North America,” said Larkin. “This is a unique waffle.”

Unlike waffles made from a liquid batter, Liège waffles start as a doughy cake with imbedded pearl sugar (extracted from Belgian sugar beets) that caramelizes on the outside as the waffle bakes.

“It doesn’t require toppings, because everything in it is all baked in,” said Larkin.

Baker and Barrett expect to be serving waffles in Red Deer later this month, with the city’s Saturday public market and the farmers markets in Sylvan Lake and Blackfalds among their weekly venues.

The carts, which were designed by Marchand, are fitted with waffle irons that are custom-made in Belgium.

“There’s really nothing like it,” said Larkin.