Whether by luck or design, the cleverest location for a new business sprang up this past April as Waffles on Maple, the city’s newest kosher food enterprise, opened its door to offer sweet and savory varieties of waffles with or without syrup. Located in a snug building at 7712 Maple Street, its exterior design looks very much like a waffle.
Owner Rotem Dahan, an Israeli, and manager Zev Attias, who was born in Miami, but grew up in Mid City since high school, embarked on the restaurant concept after Dahan saw a similar, tiny “hole in the wall” business dispensing waffles near a university in Jerusalem.
“I saw the students over there,” Dahan recalls. “It was a very easy thing – just dessert – and people came and took it and ate it on the spot.”
When asked if he thought it was a viable idea for a business, Attias, who has been known to the Jewish community as a baker of challah and other bread for several years signed on right away.
“We just took it to the next level,” Dahan continues. “We went a little more gourmet with the toppings.”
The two were long associates of the Chabad Center of Metairie, so it was natural to approach Rabbi Yossie Nemes of the Louisiana Kashruth Committee to see what would be necessary to open as a kosher facility. Knowing that the restaurant would be considered a dairy kitchen, they decided to investigate the possibility of having the restaurant designated as “Cholov Yisrael.”
“They approached me with that idea,” relates Nemes. “They came along and wanted to do Cholov Yisrael, which means that Jews are involved in the manufacturing process.”
Nemes explains that this system ensures that no non-kosher dairy products are used in any step of manufacturing. “It enhances our faith and our spiritual being that the milk that we drink and that we purchase, a member of the Jewish community was involved in the actual process.”
Being a new restaurant, Nemes found it relatively easy to certify the new kitchen as kosher. All the new dishes and glasses were toiveled (immersed in a mikveh). That both Dahan and Attias already keep kosher didn’t hurt either. “They were very knowledgable about kosher (adherence),” Nemes states.
Following the certification by Nemes with additional input from Congregation Anshe Sfard Rabbi David Polsky, a former kosher expert with the Orthodox Union (OU), the two would-be waffle barons hired a staff and opened their doors to a large selection of unusual compliments and other items to place atop waffles or adorn crepes.
The problem was that the opening occurred just shortly before Passover. Because all of their products involved bread and other items deemed chometz (not kosher for Passover) during the Passover period, Waffles on Maple was forced to shut down operations after only a few days of ringing up successful sales.
“It gave us a good idea to see what we were getting into,” Attias considers.
The concept has been so well received that the two are already considering expansion with possible locations in the Warehouse District and the French Quarter. The two are surveying locations with a large amount of foot traffic and heavy numbers of young people. Another possible enhancement to the business is the prospect of delivery.
“We’re not delivering yet, but a lot of people have called for take-outs,” says Attias.
Following the end of Passover, when the store once again opened, the waffle makers were once again dispensing dozens of different and unusual waffles like the savory Heart Attack and the sweet Banana Split.
So what about this Heart Attack Waffle? “It happened by circumstance,” explains Attias. “We has a good friend who asked up to put carmelized onions, mushrooms, jalepenos with cheddar, Muenster and mozarella cheeses on top. We thought of the name after that: that’s a heart attack!”
Overhearing the ingredients, Belinda Dahan, the co-owner, exclaimed that it was the perfect name for the waffle. It stuck.
Fresh ingredients are also a part of the menu at Waffles on Maple. When strawberry season was in full bloom, for example, the restaurant offered several options for strawberry waffles.
Special kosher items are trucked in from Miami on a semi-monthly basis, while all other items are purchased locally.
“Savory was my idea,” exclaims Attias. “I really like the one I did yesterday. It’s called the Fade Away. It’s a blend of roasted vegetables with dates, rosemary, crumbled feta on top and it’s a little spicy. The roasted vegetables have creole seasoning.”
Another savory waffle he thinks is special is the Crazy Maize. Attias describes it as “a spicy creamed corn with melted cheese, a dollop of guacamole and fresh homemade salsa and lime sour cream striped on top.” Could he describe its taste? “It just tastes good,” he replies.
For those that are watching their weight, the two are quick to point out that theirs is not a restaurant for dieters. Nevertheless, those that want to shy away from waffles can order crepes.
The restaurant is also the only Louisiana distributor of Nespresso expresso makers. These special machines and packets of pre-mixed coffees offer a complimentary beverage for those enjoying waffles or crepes. Several coffees available through Nespresso include Lungo, chocolate mocha and caramel mocha.
They also offer ice coffee and Klein ice cream for the upcoming hot summer months.
“We’re looking into catering,” Dahan continues. “Maybe a portable waffle cart or getting a food truck. The longest you’ll ever wait is 10 or 15 minutes. It all fits into the concept of fast food, gourmet food.”
The two plan on instituting several specials in the next several months, electing to advertise in the Clipper coupon booklets for June specials. There’s also a possible Monday or Tuesday special they are thinking about putting in where you buy one waffle and get 50% off the next.
Already they are the darlings of the local kosher world with reviews on kosher sites as well as Yelp. The two say a lot of frum travelers have found out about their restaurant and sought them out. “This part of Uptown is really blowing up,” Dahan beams. “It is becoming as hip and trendy as Magazine Street. We get a lot of tourists that walk around here.”
Meanwhile, Attias is constantly looking to improve the menu items. He is toying with several options. “I’ve got a multiplier for a gluten-free flour. I just have to source it and then make the product,” he says. Anything is possible; it’s just finding the items, he avers.
In the end, it’s a working relationship that works well. Dahan continues to shore up his side of the business model, while Attias whips up new creations in the kitchen. “I don’t interfere with what he does and he doesn’t interfere with what I do,” Attias contends.
And neither of them is waffling on that subject.