Imagine a restaurant where a diabetic, a gluten-free diner, a ketogenic eater and a vegan can sit at the same table enjoying their meal as a group without any of the diners having to make culinary compromises.
It’s a dream come true at Waffles and Whatnot in Eagle River where owner Derrick Green and his staff are committed to creating custom-made dishes that cater to any food preference and or dietary requirement.
“Waffles and Whatnot is a restaurant where anyone with any particular food sensitivities is served. They can come here and eat a meal specifically created for their needs,” Green said. “We are hearing from people, who for whatever reason were recluses not able to eat out because of restrictions, that they can come here and we specialize in creating dishes that meet those needs.”
Many celiac eaters who cannot have traditionally-made bread with its gluten content are able to enjoy waffles made from Green’s gluten-free formulation. The lactose intolerant, those that must avoid soy or cannot eat raw apples are also welcomed at the restaurant where cookie cutter preparation doesn’t exist.
“They can come to this restaurant with family or everybody else in their office and their meal is just as spectacular as everybody else’s,” Green said.
He isn’t exaggerating his description of the Waffles and Whatnot commitment to individualized meals.
Even the restaurant’s menu is really “just a suggestion,” Green said.
The restaurant’s serving staff is instructed to chat with the guest regarding his or her dining needs. Call it an informal culinary interview where the only pressure to impress is on the server whose job it is to discover the true dietary needs of each guest.
Most first-time guests don’t even select what they are going to eat.
Instead – as long as they are willing – Green asks guests to allow the serving staff to convey any pertinent info, such as being diabetic or celiac or a ketogenic as well as any disliked or preferred foods to the cook whom then creates a unique dish.
Sure, it’s a bit of an adventure, Green admits, but, “if they don’t like it, they don’t pay for it,” he said.
Most of the time, the guest likes the originally-designed meal, Green said.
It’s something not anticipated in today’s culinary world of big box breakfast joints. But it is how Green runs his restaurant and how he intends to run a nationwide franchise.
“Within five years, Waffles and Whatnot will be the nation’s fastest growing franchise,” he said confidently.
Green believes American diners are hungry for personalized food, and he also believes entrepreneurs need a turn-key operation with a quick path to profitability. That’s why, when he isn’t crafting new waffle recipes, Green is strategically crafting a business model for others to join him in his commitment to serving wholesome dishes that meet respective dietary needs.
“This,” Green said in reference to the Eagle River location just off the Old Glenn Highway tucked between a parts store and a long-time Italian eatery, “will be the training facility where our franchisees from across the nation will come to learn how to run their respective Waffles and Whatnot location.”
Green’s desire to create nutritious foods came from the death of his first wife and his mother.
Both had cancer. His mother also had HIV which developed into AIDS.
“I lost both of them,” Green said. “And I blame food – food that was not of top quality nutrition – for their illnesses and ultimately, their deaths.”
Green was on active duty set to deploy to Iraq when his first wife found a lump. He didn’t deploy.
Instead, he was allowed to remain home.
Chemotherapy ravaged her body. She could only get a couple bites down before her digestive system revolted. Green said he realized it was vital for her to get the best nutrition in those couple of bites.
So, he started experimenting. He’d been cooking since age six when his mother taught Green – one of the oldest of seven children – how to cook. His first dish was rice and he admits it was a bit too gummy, but his culinary skills improved.
Fast-forward a decade or so to when Green, as a married man caring for a terminally-ill wife, who could only tolerate BRAT (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) compliant foods, discovered that his culinary skills could make a difference in her quality of life.
He created many different recipes – especially for pancakes. He incorporated seasonings and supplements that could maximize nutritional value.
“My goal was to create dishes that even if she could only eat a few bites, she still ate nutritious bites,” he said.
After six years, her third round of cancer proved too much.
He was devastated and at the time of her death did not realize just how impactful her battle against cancer would be in his future endeavors.
His first wife was Jewish and thus he took her remains to Israel for burial.
He swore to himself that if he did remarry, it would not be to a Jewish woman.
Yet, while in Israel he met Liara. A friendship developed. She spent hours with him on Facetime after he returned to the United States to prepare for a move to the Fairbanks area with the military and to sort through all of his wife’s possessions. Green and Liara had long, deep conversations, he said. He was able to “get very real” with her and have “deep” conversations that he’d never had before.
Liara, too, shared Green’s passion for creating nutritious foods.
Their platonic relationship turned romantic. They married and Liara became a partner in culinary adventures as the pair first offered waffles for sale at a sidewalk stand in downtown Anchorage after Green left the active duty service.
Waffles and Whatnot has a food truck and went through a couple of location changes before finding the spot in Eagle River with a fully-loaded kitchen and ample parking for guests.
They opened the location in November and other than a few days post the Nov. 30 earthquake, the Wednesday through Sunday operation stays busy and steady, Green said.
He employs people with creativity; people with ideas.
Several employees have added their own touches; some are recipes he intends to sell in bulk once a manufacturing division is established next door.
The first week of February, Green and Liara are attending a small business summit sponsored by Facebook in California.
He modestly talks about what he will learn there, but the reality is that he was invited to speak and teach. The Waffles and Whatnot Facebook page is the fastest growing page in Alaska and Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer, and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, will be in the audience.
It’s a big deal; but it also isn’t. Green met Zuckerberg a year ago at another conference he attended to share how he’s used the social media platform to promote his business.
“When you are around him, you suddenly realize just how smart he really is,” Green said.
Waffles aren’t his only passion.
Green has worked in the homeless community for years hosting pop-up food events to feed the hungry and distribute toiletries. He is an advocate for victims of domestic and sexual violence.
Green is also an author. His first book, “Till Death Did Us Part,” outlines the lessons he learned as a cancer caregiver. His second book, “Stop Talking and Start Walking ... Five Words to Live By,” shares his mantra of making a difference in one’s local community.
Despite his fondness of social media, Green is bucking one of its trends at his restaurant.
He encourages guests to put their cell phones away while there.
Yes, it is cool with him when they take photos and post on Facebook, but he also notices that many guests naturally put their phones aside in favor of engaging in a little “oh” and “awe” while test-tasting each other’s entrees, featuring everything from savory waffles topped with alfredo sauce and chicken to sweet waffles decked out in berries and whip cream.
“It’s a place they can come and begin to actually engage with each other more than just texting and being glued to their phones while enjoying a meal,” he said. “I really like that.”
Waffles and Whatnot is located at 12801 Old Glenn Highway in Eagle River. Restaurant is open Wed. and Thurs. from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Fri., Sat. and Sun. from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Website is www.wafflesandwhatnot.com. Phone number is (907) 854-0178.
Favorite picks: The Unicorn Dream Waffle and the Fridge Omelet.
Reach Amy Armstrong via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.