Step away from the toaster and stop by Waffle Mania for fresh, breakfast-inspired delights
By Shelley Basinger | Photography by RJ GOODWIN
As a mom of three boys, Susan Merkle—owner of the new Waffle Mania food truck in Forest— is accustomed to making sure everyone is fed and happy. “They are always hungry!” she laughs referring to her sons, now ages 17, 20 and 24.
Aside from eating (especially chocolate, a family favorite), her boys also love to ski—a family tradition. Susan grew up skiing in northern Wisconsin and met her husband on the slopes of upper Michigan.
Since the boys were little, the family has traveled to fantastic ski resorts across the country—from Colorado to West Virginia. At a slope in the Lake Tahoe area, they were introduced to something that could satisfy their sweet tooth—and fill up those hungry boys at the same time.
“When we were out skiing, sometimes we would find these niche markets of Belgian waffles, the real sugar waffles,” she says.
“We would smell them from the chair lift and just had to have them. We made it our mission to find them when traveling!”
More recently, they had the idea to bring the unique dish to Central Virginia. First, though, they had to figure out how to make them.
“In Belgium, they use a dough. They don’t make waffles with a batter,” she explains.
Hailing from the town of Liege, Belgian Sugar Waffles are made with a yeast-based brioche dough studded with special pearl nibs of sugar. “When the dough hits the cast iron, it carmelizes. So you get this crunch on the outside but the inside is soft and chewy,” Susan says.
After checking that off their list, the Merkles did some quick research and determined a food truck was their best avenue for distribution. The rest was a family effort. Susan’s husband played a big role in finishing out the truck; the boys helped create the menu and name each dish. (For example, a popular dish is Da Bomb, a Belgian Sugar Waffle topped with vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, peanuts and lots more. “That’s such a boy name,” Susan jokes.)
Susan—who has a chocolatier, marketing and information technology background—says they’ve had all hands on deck since opening the truck in June. “It’s been a lot of work… even more work than I realized!” she says. Aside from working the truck, she designed their website, maintains an up-to-date calendar of where they are, and utilizes an email list for customers.
She thanks a partnership with Carol’s Place Restaurant for their consistent presence. You’ll usually find the bright yellow food truck parked there. Another huge perk—customers can enjoy their waffles at a couple of tables beside the truck or head inside to the enclosed patio at Carol’s Place. It’s already been a spot for family gatherings and birthday parties, she says; customers can enjoy their food without worrying about wind, rain or extreme temperatures.
The Waffle Mania food truck also travels to local events; on Sundays, you’ll find them at Apocalypse Ale Works for the brewery’s Sunday Funday.
Aside from Da Bomb, Susan says customers are loving their Fruit Mania (topped with bananas, strawberries, chocolate fudge and powdered sugar) and the seasonal Apple Fest (topped with a warm apple spice mix and whipped cream).
They’ve also added a savory Southern dish to the menu: Chicken-n-Waffles combines their classic Belgian Sugar Waffle with chicken tenders, maple syrup, glazed walnuts and strawberries. Availability varies—Susan says that’s because they quickly sell out when it’s offered!
With only a few months under their belt, Susan says they are happy just getting into a groove. With an indoor eating space option and a versatile menu that can be enjoyed from summer (with ice cream) through the winter (with coffee), she believes their future is bright.
“People keep asking me if I’m going to have another truck, start a franchise,” she says. “Let’s just see how this goes for now. We are having so much fun.”