A Philadelphia-area Couple Quit Their Corporate Jobs to Launch Waffatopia®
Belgian Waffle Startup is a Labor of Love
Brian and Andrea Polizzi are driven by the love of waffles. They ditched their high-paying, but draining corporate jobs, to pursue a delicious dream. From humble beginnings that started in the kitchen of their home, the husband-and-wife team has now risen to become the premier U.S. producers of Belgian Liège-style waffles. Waffatopia bakes scrumptious specialty waffles from scratch using simple, 100% pronounceable ingredients in over 20 different “no-syrup-required” varieties, and ships them fresh all over the country.
Now, six years after Andrea walked away from investment management giant Vanguard and four years after Brian left his job at life science solutions provider PerkinElmer to join his wife in launching their own business, the two are the “Chief Waffatiers” at Waffatopia, a state-of-the-art production facility that produces tens of thousands of handmade authentic Liège-style waffles to die-hard Waffatopians (aka Waffatopia lovers). Their top sellers include Chocolate Stuffed; Maple Bacon; Lemon Blueberry; and Cinnamon Vanilla, with many more exotic and seasonal recipes in development. Along the way, the couple has racked up numerous press accolades, including a game-changing appearance on the Food Network’s “Great American Food Finds.” And it was all thanks to a little trip to Belgium that proved to be revelatory and life-changing.
“Andrea joined me on a business trip to Belgium in 2009, and we both enjoyed the cuisine and culture so much,” said Brian. “We fell most in love with the freshly-made waffles, which we literally found at every turn throughout the country. Right after the trip, our concept of bringing these waffles to the U.S. started incubating, and we began to do some delicious research and development. It was a little scary,” admits Brian. “A lot of testing of recipes and waffle irons to find the best combination of ingredients. It took a long time – two years – to nail it, but it was worth all of the hard work and persistence, AND we realized along the way that we truly love working together. Andrea and I have put everything into this, which we are excited to see grow even bigger.”
Brian graduated from Penn State with degrees in Microbiology and Biochemistry in May 2000, while Andrea, a Marketing/Business major, graduated in December of 1999. They met on the second day of orientation at PSU’s satellite campus in Berks County and have been inseparable ever since, marrying just two years after graduation.
Right after college, Brian started working at Smithkline Beecham (now GlaxoSmithKline) as a research enzymologist. After four years, he accepted a sales position at PerkinElmer that led him into global portfolio management where he spent more time on the road, traveling all over the world. Meanwhile, Andrea became a self-described “tool chick” for DeWalt® Power Tools, visiting work sites and contractors to sell tools for the company. She then moved into the medical/lab supplies sales field before ending up at Vanguard. There, she moved up the corporate ladder in various roles, eventually landing in the high net worth division as chief of staff and project manager.
“By 2012 we were both bored and burnt out from the intense grind, and at that point, the money didn’t matter,” said Andrea. “We were unable to feel accomplished or do anything fun for ourselves, so we decided to do the most fun thing we could think of — work together to produce and sell something that we both adored and that our friends and family really seemed to enjoy — delicious Liège waffles.”
The Polizzis started developing what they called “the perfect” waffle in their home in West Chester, PA. While perfecting their waffles, they started thinking about packaging. “We didn’t want to be another wax-paper-and-hand-printed-sticker company,” said Andrea. “We understood the value of having premium packaging adorning the deliciousness that we worked so hard to create.” Now, Waffatopia is recognizable for its signature large orange boxes and quality packaging, which house the waffles they produce and ship to their customers all over the U.S.
While Waffatopia was originally conceived as a food truck business, Brian and Andrea determined that they needed a production location first, and they found 120 square-feet inside the Artisan’s Exchange in West Chester, PA. The company officially incorporated in April of 2012, and one year later, on April 6, 2013, Waffatopia was launched. The Polizzis initially sold single waffles and small packages at their tiny production space and farmers markets, and by the winter of 2013 online sales began to take off.
“Our launch involved a ton of hustle,” said Brian. “We faced some challenging hurdles along the way, but after a couple years of building our business and our clientele, we realized that we had a good thing going. And then in 2015, everything changed — for the best.”
Waffatopia’s big break came in the spring of 2015, when the Food Network announced that they were looking for local artisans to be featured on the show “Great American Food Finds.” Brian and Andrea received a call, and after negotiations and Skype auditions, spent two days filming over Memorial Day Weekend. The episode — featuring Brian and Andrea and their Waffatopia waffles — ended up a part of the premiere episode thanks to the positive response by Food Network executives. “We still get comments years later from friends and customers who saw us on TV,” said Brian with a smile.
“Between the filming, the airing of the episode, a new website with an e-commerce system, and the launch of an aggressive digital marketing campaign, we were ready for an influx of sales,” Andrea said. “We had the ‘Shark Tank philosophy’ to prepare first, and then find success later. And it paid off big time.”
Waffatopia’s production increased ten-fold, with a repeat customer retention rate above 70 percent. By the end of the year, the company had doubled their sales, selling more than 20,000 waffles per month!
“We pride ourselves on always making sure things are clear with our customers regarding their orders,” said Andrea. “During the time of what we call ‘the Food Network expansion,’ only one order out of thousands was canceled due to our longer than normal lead times.
In the spring of 2016, Brian and Andrea moved to their current 3,000 square-foot production facility in Conshohocken, PA which they fondly call “The Waffary.” They can now handle five times more orders than at their previous location, with a maximum capacity of approximately 6,000 artisan made waffles per day. They are on-track to produce several hundred thousand waffles and a significant portion of Waffatopia’s profits go towards helping others.
“Charity is very important to us,” said Brian. “We do a lot of work with Julia’s Grace Foundation and we’d like to work with Penn State’s THON, both of which help children with cancer. We have also worked with Pennsylvania DECA, West Chester Food Bank, Philabundance, and other food banks in New York and Philadelphia, and we also try to give back as much of our time as possible reaching out and teaching other aspiring entrepreneurs.”
“We have graduated from a hopeful startup to a successful business. But to us, producing a delicious, unique product that makes people happy is why we’re trying so hard to do what we do. That’s why we love our jobs and lifestyle so much,” said Brian. “We met and fell in love, and as we started to share our lives together found a purpose that we both wanted to devote everything to, “explained Andrea. “Reflecting on our path to this point, neither one of us would change a thing. We are truly living the dream!”
Waffatopia is located at 1050 Colwell Lane, Suite 302, Conshohocken, PA. 19428. Learn more by visiting www.Waffatopia.com.
Sponsored by Waffatopia