In 1988 a high school student from the Netherlands, Bianca Van der Gaag, stayed with two families in Goshen. She came bearing tasty treats from her homeland known as stroopwaffles, and discovered that people enjoyed these cookie-like treats.
“Every time I would come over, I would bring more and more,” she says.
That was the start of a business idea that would take years to bring to fruition. Fast-forward to 2019, and Bianca and her husband Patrick Letens were approved for a visa and began the process of establishing Dutch Waffle Company LLC.
Bianca is the sole owner of the locally based Dutch Waffle Company, which was recently certified as a 100% woman-owned business.
Dutch Waffle Company bakes stroopwaffles, which bear no resemblance to the pancake-type breakfast item that most Americans would expect when they hear the word “waffle.” Instead, this traditional treat from the Netherlands is flat and crispy with a soft caramel filling, more like a cookie than a waffle.
Thanks to the support of the late LeRoy Hostetler, and Dennis and Leah Hochstetler from Rentown Country Store out of Bremen, Bianca was able to secure a commercial-grade kitchen and begin making the Dutch Waffle Company products for distribution to local stores. One of the first customers for the cookie was the Culinary Mill in Nappanee.
“Stroopwaffles are fun cookies because they can be used in a variety of ways and to each one’s creativity,” Bianca says.
People can eat them out of the package, or simply allow them to soften over a warm beverage and enjoy the cinnamon and caramel filling. Stroopwaffles can be cut up for an ice-cream topping and used as the base for s’mores.
They are also a “great grab-and-go snack,” Bianca says.
Dutch Waffle Company makes two sizes of the cookies – the standard size, which is about 3.5” in diameter, and the 5” Jimbo size, named for her exchange family’s patriarch. The cookies are packaged individually and in two-packs. The family pack is great to share and use as a gift.
Patrick and Bianca can also be found at local festivals, often tweaking the flavors. For the Blueberry Festival in Plymouth, they created a blueberry-flavored stroopwaffle.
For Mother’s Day, the traditional round shape becomes a heart. Stroopwaffles in the shape of shamrocks were baked for the University of Notre Dame.
Custom orders for shapes and flavors are available for orders of 250 or more. The couple can also bake the cookies on-site for private gatherings.
Dutch Waffle Company also offers gluten-free organic product selections. This makes up 10 to 15% of overall sales, Patrick says.
A new product introduced this year is a one-pound package of No Bake Stroopwaffle Pie Crust, which consists of crumbs left over from the production of the stroopwaffles. Although similar to graham-cracker crusts, stroopwaffle crumbs give desserts a thicker crust similar to cookie crumbs, Bianca says.
Customers have been sending the company their recipes for this new product, which can be used for all kinds of pies and cupcakes, in bars, and as a crumb topping for other desserts.
Bianca and Patrick manage four employees, including their daughter Annelotte Tobongbanua. She handles social media and marketing for the company.
She is oldest of the couple’s three daughters at 24. Recently married, she lives in Hawaii. Their middle daughter, Leonie, lives in the Netherlands, and the youngest, Ilse, lived in the states for a time but has since moved back to the Netherlands.
The company has an online shop, developed by Annelotte. Bianca says the online store is not meant to compete with local stores that stock their products. It was a means of expanding their business to people outside the area.
For Bianca, it is encouraging to see the reactions of customers who try the product for the first time. They offer samples at their booths at festivals.
“We encourage them to try it,” Patrick says. “People pass us by and we encourage them to take a sample.”
That first bite is often all that is needed to make a sale and gain a new fan of the product.
Dutch Waffle Company products can be found in several local stores and supermarkets. Check out their products online at shop.dutchwafflecompany.us.