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Wafels & Dinges Expands Dessert Empire

By  Leslie Albrecht and Julie  Shapiro | August 1, 2012 7:21am 

NEW YORK — Popular waffle purveyor Wafels & Dinges is expanding its empire of trucks and carts into two city parks.

The roving Belgian treat dispensary will soon be a regular fixture just outside Park Slope's Prospect Park and in Lower Manhattan's City Hall Park, where it will set up shop on the eastern plaza by the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge.

Wafels & Dinges won a five-year contract for the City Hall Park spot and agreed to pay the city an annual fee that will start at $39,600, rising to $48,134 by the fifth year, the Parks Department said.

The company was also awarded a five-year contract to operate a cart at the Ninth Street entrance to Prospect Park, on Prospect Park West. The annual fee there starts at $30,000 and increases to $36,465 in the final year.

Wafels & Dinges has also made forays recently into Forest Hills and Astoria, Queens, said owner Thomas Degeest, a native of Belgium who describes himself as a "special envoy for wafels."

The citywide expansion is good news for fans of the mini waffle chain, which is part of the wave of food trucks and carts that have filled New York streets with a smorgasbord of sweet and savory fare in recent years.

Launched in 2007, Wafels & Dinges has won praise for crispy, fluffy waffles with "sugar pearls that pop sweetly in your mouth." The company won a coveted Vendy award in 2009.

John Fratta, chairman of Manhattan Community Board 1's Seaport/Civic Center Committee, was pleased to hear about the new waffle cart downtown.

"Who doesn't like waffles?" he asked. "It's a great addition to the community. I think it's going to be very successful."

The waffle wagon should be up and running in City Hall Park by the end of August, serving the soft and chewy "Liège" waffle, Degeest said. In the summer the cart will serve ice cream made with Belgian gingerbread cookies, and in the winter it will sell hot chocolate.

"We're very excited because we really don't have much presence downtown," Degeest said.

"Our truck goes once a week to Wall Street, but other than that we're kind of under-waffled downtown. We're looking forward to it."

Wafels & Dinges' trucks draw long lines of dessert lovers when they visit the Financial District. They even served as the finale of a local food truck tour.

But Skip Blumberg, founder of the Friends of City Hall Park, worried that putting a waffle cart in City Hall Park would disrupt the peaceful environment by drawing noisy crowds.

"There's plenty of restaurants in half a block of City Hall," Blumberg said. "There are too many vendors on the sidewalks surrounding City Hall Park. This is an example of City Hall not listening to its neighbors."

Some locals in Park Slope also gave Wafels & Dinges a cool reception. One woman said she wouldn't be eating the waffles because she "preferred to eat healthy food" and another said she would forego the waffles because she was trying to avoid eating gluten.

Tom Morgan, a lifetime Park Slope resident who lives across the street from the new cart outpost, said he liked the breakfasty smell of cooking waffles, but he probably wouldn't be a regular customer because of the prices, which range from $3 to $8.50.

He added that some locals missed the old-fashioned hot dog cart that once stood in the spot Wafels & Dinges will take over.

"I'm on a fixed income and they're a little expensive for me," Morgan said. "But [the waffle cart] seems to be doing a pretty good business."

Degeest said Park Slopers have been loyal customers since 2007, when Wafels & Dinges first parked its truck at Seventh Avenue and Carroll Street. He said he expected the relationship to continue with new Prospect Park location.

Wafels & Dinges recently completed a month-long trial run outside Prospect Park and will bring its cart back full-time in April or May, Degeest said.

"We always try to pick locations that offer not just good foot traffic, but kind of a nice relaxing setting to enhance the waffle experience," Degeest said.

"It's not really functional food. For people who come to eat a waffle, it's a moment of relaxation, and Prospect Park is a beautiful setting for it."

As for the waffles' calorie count and gluten content, Degeest said there's a place for waffles in everyone's diet.

"There's always going to be a need for a moment of indulgence," he said.

"Waffles are fun. They're friendly for families. We're not asking people to eat waffles every day."