Bruges Waffles and Frites Score in US
by MARTIJN VANHINSBERG
Bruges-native Pierre Vandamme (51) scores in the States with his Bruges Waffles & Frites. He will open his fourth restaurant in July and coming soon possibly even more. “Why should I restrain myself? The sky’s the limit!” Says the ambitious man. “But I still miss Bruges.”
Nothing tastes as good as crispy fries with homemade mayonnaise or a fresh Liège waffle. Tourists from around the world come to Belgium to taste the delicacies. But Pierre Vandamme from Bruges brought just that Belgian culinary pride to the American state of Utah, under the banner of Bruges Waffles & Frites. In metropolitan Salt Lake City, he has three restaurants and he will soon open a fourth. Within two weeks, he will start franchising, so there may soon be locations across the entire United States. Another step in Bruges success.
“In 1994, my wife Marie had an opportunity to move to Salt Lake City to work for a company that did aqua-farming. We didn’t hesitate and left for America. I had family who lived in the United States and it was always our dream to settle here. I have my certification as a pilot and could work at the same company. I also worked as a pilot for cargo companies for a while, and finally worked for the famous Sky West Airlines,” says Pierre.
When the man resigned after a disagreement with a flight instructor, he decided in 2004 to change course. “The resignation was hard. But after a while I came up with the idea of doing something in the food industry, which I had always played with in my head. I liked the idea of being with people after all the time I had spent staring at the cockpit of an airplane.”
Pierre did not have to think about what he wanted to serve the American people. “I had good recipes to make waffles and I knew the best way to make fries and sauces. So I thought, ‘Why not try it just with a food cart.'” I got a great response to my food and decided to set up my stand in a Farmers market in Salt Lake City. It was a great success and I did it for five years.”
In 2009, Pierre founded his first restaurant in Salt Lake City. “I started with something small across from the park. It could sit six people inside, but there was a large terrace. In the beginning it wasn’t easy, but eventually things went better. Then we were featured on national television, in the program “Man V. Food”, and everything took off. I had found a niche in the market. In 2012, a second restaurant soon followed with a third in 2014. In July we will open a fourth restaurant, ” explains Pierre. “Why are the people of Utah so crazy about my waffles and frites? I make the food in the traditional way and people like that. In addition, there are many Mormons (members of the Mormon church community, ed.) that live here. They visit Europe frequently, and they know the tastes of Belgium and are fond of them. ”
Meanwhile, Pierre has thirty people working under him in his three restaurants. Also, his brother Frederic Bosteels (42) moved to America with his family four years ago and is now the right-hand man of Pierre. “Within two weeks we will start franchising. Already people are calling asking if they can open a store under our name. We will contact people who we know are interested now. Maybe in a few months we will be ready to open a new restaurant in Las Vegas. It shouldn’t go too fast though, because we want all new affiliates remain equally authentic,” the owner continues. “But why should I be limited to the state of Utah, when all Americans will love our products?”
Although his American dream seems to be coming true, he still misses his beloved city Bruges. “My mother still lives in Bruges, so we do try to visit Belgium once a year. I also miss the delicious Belgian food—something simple as tomato-shrimp—at the mere thought I start salivating. Here you have take the car for everything, while I could go anywhere in Bruges by bike,” said Pierre, who also is happy that he can draw attention to Bruges.
He makes up for missing Bruges and Belgium amply in his restaurants. “I make the decor as much like Bruges as possible. In the restrooms hang pictures of Tom Boonen and Eddy Merckx. Now I’m looking at pictures of the Red Devils to hang in every restaurant. In addition, we also import many Belgian products such as sugar, speculoos, and chocolate, of course, to use in our dishes.”
Back to Bruges?
As for the future, Pierre laughs. “Probably I am increasingly concerned with franchising, working to make sure we keep the authenticity. As a result, I will be less active in the local restaurants. But anyway, I want to win over the USA. Would I ever open a restaurant in Bruges? My four children were born in the USA, so it wouldn’t be simple to do that. But I feel solidarity with Bruges, so I don’t rule that out,” smiles Pierre.