More on his plate: student starts and runs “Joost Wafel Co.”
Smells can soothe us and evoke memories. In Joost Elling’s case, a smell inspired him to start a business.
Freshman Elling was on a trip to the Netherlands to visit relatives and found himself drawn to the smell of stroopwafels in an open-air market. For the uninformed, a stroopwafel is a cookie made of two thin waffle-cookies joined together by caramel.
When Elling returned from the Netherlands, he decided to begin making stroopwafels of his own, as he could not find them for sale in the United States. Elling says he ordered a special stroopwafel iron from Europe and started working on a stroopwafel recipe at home, altering the recipe to suit the American palate.
After receiving positive feedback on his stroopwafels from his high school football coaches, Elling took the cookies to the 2013 Rehoboth Beach Chocolate Festival. The stroopwafels, now with a milk-chocolate coating, won first place. Elling says the experience helped him to see the business opportunity in front of him.
Elling proceeded to create an LLC and set up a website for his company, Joost Wafel Co. Now Elling is a food and agribusiness and marketing and management major, which he calls “the perfect match” for his work on his company.
Elling says in addition to expanding his company, he would like to have a café or restaurant one day. His vision for the place was inspired by a small café he visited on a trip to the Netherlands this winter.
“That’s what I really like, is people just being able to just sit down, try the wafel, have some coffee,” Elling says. “[I’d like to] expand the experience [of just trying a stroopwafel].”
For now, Elling’s stroopwafels are sold online and in two stores in the Bethany Beach area, the Turtle Beach Café and McCabe’s Gourmet Market. Elling says he likes selling his cookies in these local eateries because they connect his business to the community.
“The local sense, I always want to keep that, because it really makes that connection with where you began,” Elling says. “But if I can expand to more areas, more people can have this experience that I originally had when I had the stroopwafel in the Netherlands, and that’s what this whole thing was about, sharing that first experience I had.”
Elling has been able to not only bring stroopwafels to others but to investors, as well. Elling is a part of the Salisbury University Shore Hatchery Entrepreneurship program, in which people with an interest in entrepreneurship can apply for project funding and mentorship. Elling says the process is similar to “Shark Tank.” A grant from this program has helped Elling to fund his business.
Word-of-mouth has also helped Elling’s business. Friends and family order from Joost Wafel Co. for parties. After Elling created a mock state legislature to make his stroopwafels the official state cookie as part of an American Legion Boys’ State program, someone from the organization ordered stroopwafels to take to a conference in Texas as a way of representing Delaware.
Although Elling does not have a business partner, he says family friends and his mentors from the Shore Hatchery program have helped him to succeed. In addition, if Elling has a very large order to complete, he and his family or friends may work together on those stroopwafels. Elling says when he and his father work together, they can make up to 200 cookies in an hour.
Elling says he does not have trouble balancing the business with his schoolwork or his personal life; owning his own company allows him to manage his schedule to fit responsibilities and fun.
Elling tells the story of a time in high school when he ran out of pre-packaged stroopwafels to sell as a vendor at a soccer tournament. He was working as a vendor and attending a school dance all in one weekend, and says he ended up returning home from the dance around midnight making more stroopwafels to sell the following day.
“Sometimes it gets really busy, all cramped up at once,” Elling says. “But that’s when it’s actually kind of more fun because you have a lot to do, and you have to focus, and you just feel so relieved finally, when you get through it all, and everything just works out.”