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Put the napkin in your lap and pull up to the table with Eau Claire's Hungry Italian as he provides the area's only true Restaurant Review.  Don't have another family night ruined by poor service.  Find the perfect spot to take that special online someone on the third date that has romance commingled with value.  

EATING ESTABLISHMENT  Waffle Shack

DINING DATE   Friday February 14th

MEAL TIME    Breakfast

ATTENDEES IN PARTY  1 adult

TOTAL BILL  -Under $10

OREDERED Waffle with strawberries and a milk

ENTREE   

Anyone who has endured the stress of a job performance evaluation – the adult equivalent to the horrors of the junior high swim test – knows the compliment sandwich.  The Hungry Italian feels best to utilize that here.

On a frigid Friday morning the Hungry Italian visited this place, a locale he’d had on his list since it opened in the Fall. A great location and a concept that is unique to the area. As a fan of the Eggo/Waffle House style as opposed to the Belgian style popular at Mother’s Day buffets, this place called out to him.

Right away let’s stress the good.  The single employee in the establishment (believed to be one of the owners) was extremely attentive, courteous and clearly super appreciative of the business. The waffle itself was very good and the Hungry Italian encourages all to go there and get your waffles as plain as possible (maybe some fruit but avoid syrup and other toppings that would hide the waffle flavor. Save that for the brunches in May).  The food concept is one that has unbelievable potential in this market and one the Hungry Italian wishes he’d thought of and invested in prior.

However, as a fan of the show Restaurant Impossible, the Hungry Italian has always wondered what its like to see one of those places before the turnaround. Sadly, that is what was experienced here.  Not the worst food, nor the worst service as both were good to exceptional but the restaurant itself is a mess of haphazardly thrown together ideas.

If the effort was to be “quirky” it’s a miss.  “Quirky” is a design element no different than any other. It’s not an excuse to have no centralized design concept.

The first thing noticed is the lack of permanent signage outside. After being open several months and still using a basic $100 vinyl banner gives a temporary feel. Signage, ahead of word-of-mouth is any foot-traffic reliant business’s number one marketing tool. The windows are shaded and the place feels dead from the outside.

Upon entry an unpleasant smell hit the nose of the Hungry Italian. Not a pungent aroma but definitely not the sweet smell one would expect. This is likely from the worn out wall-to-wall carpeting.

Except for sounds from an unoccupied video game set up in the back of the room (more on that later) the place was quiet.

 

The room is large and the location enviable right on Water Street.  Unfortunately, the space here is a confusing assemblage of things.  Video game systems are in the immediate front corners instead of seating.  Having people at the windows would give an appearance of activity and help draw more in by giving the “This must be the place everyone goes too” feel.  The video games are outdated and cheesy.  Next to the video games, along the left are a few tables and chairs.  Booths would look significantly better and then tables in place of the video games.  To the right is the ordering and prep station.  There isn’t a kitchen here.  Think of it like a Subway or Firehouse Subs.  In the far back, are more video games.

The walls are adorned with local art that is well-intentioned but looks out of place.  Numerous handmade notes are all over the place.  The prep area looks unorganized and while the place serves sausages and eggs, the Hungry Italian didn’t see any commercial grade restaurant equipment except for a waffle maker.  Slushie machines and a small drink fridge add to the confusion.

Upon placing the order, the employee fumbled with their phone to put the order in.  Another awkward moment.  While tablets are common and old fashioned registers are hitting the dumpsters to see someone place your order via a personal smartphone was unnerving.  The Hungry Italian pulled his credit card back and made sure to pay with cash.

There are so many other things.  Even though there is an inordinate amount of coffee places, this restaurant’s lack of real coffee (there was a pot along the back row that is a standard home model) is a major miss.  The Hungry Italian decided to order milk but even that was awkward.  The employee said “I can pour you a glass” which just sounded weird and then upon serving it said “you’re welcome to make it chocolatey up here if you want”  meaning we could grab a chocolate syrup container.

The informality can be a trademark and can be a hook, but in this case surrounded by everything else it comes across as unprepared, silly and again very awkward.  Too familiar for a business relationship.

While waiting, the Hungry Italian took note of the drab carpet (no doubt a source of the odor), the confusing images on the wall, the random video game systems all over the place and the eerie silence broken up by said video games.

 

Not a single other soul entered the building during the 15 minutes the Hungry Italian was here from entry to exit. This again, was during a period most other breakfast places in town (including others a block away) are doing solid business.

Now, let’s get back to the positive because that does exist.  This concept is a potential killer and its been reported this location has had some strong weekends. 

 

While the whole experience was uneasy because of the one-on-one aspect, the employee (likely owner) was nothing but super appreciative of the business.  It’s not just a cliché’ but one can tell that love and effort have been poured into this place.  The Waffle Shack isn’t merely some place a person started on a whim or because they had a few extra bucks or because they were looking for an investment opportunity.

 

However, the Waffle Shack is doomed unless it organizes itself.  Does it want to be a video game place that serves up waffles?  If so, they need to re-design for that and perhaps even change the name to reflect that.  Or, are the video games simply there because they had space?  If that is the case, get rid of them, put more seating in and invest in commercial grade equipment.  Appearance means everything.

The Hungry Italian (even as a gamer himself) would de-emphasize the video games. 

Also, invest in a sign, replace the carpeting with hard floors and get up beat tempo music playing.  You want this to be a “turn and burn” place and proper musical ambiance is critical.

Put money into some real coffee.  The lack of coffee makes this a much more difficult place to justify going on a weekday.

 

The Hungry Italian wishes these guys the best of luck and hopes they’re also able to gain the income necessary to invest into their business.  This is a concept and restaurant that if they can mature it, should easily be a three-times money maker within a short time.

 

SECOND HELPING 

No unless a renovation occurs.

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