by Hannah Burton
photography by Tyler Deacy
At 6 a.m. every morning, it is time for Wähfles Café to “dial in.” The espresso machine is adjusted just right, and the smell of exotic coffee from around the world fills the room. Jimmy Brown, an owner, looks around the dimly lit café and recognizes customers by name. The three men in the corner come in every morning. Justin—sitting in the back—just had a baby girl. He knows their orders and knows their stories.
The café found success by committing to a vision. “We built this store from the ground up with everything in mind to make sure that customers walk in and feel comfortable; they feel like they’re at home. With the combination of excellent food and coffee, friendly staff and a unique atmosphere, Brown and business partner Jeff Rotondo have worked hard to craft a great customer experience.
Since its January 2014 opening, efforts to become a unique part of the community are a reality. Wähfles hosts open-mic nights and fundraisers, a local art gallery (some for sale) and features holiday celebrations. The café also hosts fundraisers for marching bands, elementary schools and the University of La Verne’s sororities and fraternities plus its barber shop choir. “When a sorority comes over, it’s 100 screaming girls who are eating things they shouldn’t be eating that late at night, but they all have fun,” Rotondo laughs. Support of other donation events like Relay for Life, raffle nights, career day appearances and wine walks further demonstrate the owners’ community commitment. During the holidays, there is a Christmas tree in the corner and a Menorah on the counter. Curious George, Madeline, Corduroy and other children’s books lie beneath the tree in hopes that parents will read a tale to their child and take the book home after.
Using his eight years of restaurant experience, Brown has crafted a waffle themed menu focused on flavor and quality. Nine sweet treats range from banana cream, salted ganache and s’mores. Savory sandwiches include slow roasted pork, buffalo chicken and smoked turkey. “I literally ran out of the door halfway through one of [Jeff’s] sentences, and I ran to Subway next door, and I bought deli meat. And I took it, and I put the waffle back into the iron, and I made a sandwich. So, the next week, we went out and bought all the stuff that we needed to do sandwiches on a larger scale, and it worked out really well,” Brown says.
The Wähfles owners make most of their ingredients in house. “People ask, ‘Is your food fresh?’ I thought they were being sarcastic, but we rotate everything out every other day. We only keep small quantities. We just don’t prepare a lot in advance because we want it as fresh as possible,” Rotondo explains. “We’re getting fresh fruit; we make everything from scratch. Things that should last two weeks, we get rid of in four days. Batter is a two and a half hour process. Sauces take up to 1.5 hours to make.” The ever-changing menu is customized to hit different seasons and customer preferences. “Anything that comes out of the kitchen has to have a waffle in it. It’s branding.” Whether you order the Ricky Ricardo or crème brûlée, the honey latte or mocha [Rotondo and Brown’s favorite menu items] customers find something they want. “Their waffles are really good. They have dessert waffles and savory waffles so you can go there multiple times—for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, for dessert and to get your coffee,” ULV student and frequent customer Tekoah King says. “They’re very friendly, helpful and community oriented,” she adds. “It’s a really good company, and they know all the things to value to keep the business going.”
The owners hope to one-day franchise their unique waffle and coffee shop to bring more people together to have a conversation, to eat a waffle themed sandwich and to sip their favorite espresso.