Dad's Belgian Waffles thriving in small town Danube
DANUBE -- When Cal and Suzie Lueck bought in to the Dad's Belgian Waffles business eight years ago, they did nearly all of the work themselves.
Now, they have three teams, occasionally four, serving waffles and sausages to crowds all over Minnesota and Wisconsin.
They even have groupies.
One woman in the Twin Cities meets her friends at the nearest waffle feed to celebrate her birthday.
Another admirer chose his weekend camping destination so he could go to a waffle feed, too.
"We'll be at a Twins game and somebody will say, 'Where do I know you from,' and Cal will say, 'Waffles?' They'll say, "That's it!'" Suzie said.
The Luecks got into the waffle business after they met founder Ray Morgan at a waffle feed in Renville to benefit the ambulance service. Morgan could be considered the "dad" in Dad's Belgian Waffles.
Cal Lueck said he and Morgan struck up a conversation and hit it off right away.
He commented that Morgan was a long way from his home of Algona, Iowa. Morgan said he had been looking in the Sioux Falls area for someone to help expand the business.
"We just visited there that day," Cal said. They met several times after that, and Cal and Suzie trained in Iowa before they bought their own equipment.
They are independent operators, but they share a Web site with Dad's Belgian Waffles in Iowa.
Morgan has since sold the Iowa business to his son. He retains the copyright to the business name, and the Luecks retain permission to use it.
The Luecks started out with one refrigerator and one freezer and a small storage room off the garage in their Danube home. The equipment and inventory has expanded since then, and their dining room doubles as an office.
On weekends, the Luecks and two other two-person teams work at events in Minnesota, Wisconsin and sometimes in the Dakotas. They tried adding a fourth event on some weekends this fall but have decided not to continue the practice. It's a stretch for their business and they don't want to expand at this point.
There would be room for them to expand if they wanted to, they said, but there's no more room in their house and they don't want to add on or move the business to another location. They believe the potential for growth might help them when they decide to retire and sell the business.
"We anticipated this would be weekend work for Suzie and I," Cal said. He had worked for Southwest Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative for 26 years, and she was a high school math teacher.
Once their youngest child went to college in 2003, it became easier for them to expand. One son and his wife work as a team. Other employees work part-time for the company. Some use it as a supplement to another full-time or part-time job.
They work in two-person teams.
"He mans the irons and serving area, and I man the kitchen and the volunteers in there," Suzie said.
Organizations provide volunteer labor to do the rest of the work. "We basically have an arrangement where we split the gate," he said.
They book events over the telephone and by e-mail, Cal said. Most of their promotion is by word-of-mouth, he added.
Ninety percent of their business is fundraising, and much of it is repeat business. Many groups will book the same weekend every year for a special event, Suzie said.
"What has surprised us is how it's become popular in the metro," Cal said.
When they started, they were told that it only works in areas with a "small town/potluck mentality." But they've found that spirit survives in the Twin Cities suburbs, where they are popular with Lions Clubs and fire departments.
The business did about 300 events last year, with the Luecks doing about 130 of them personally. They work about 50 weeks a year with a break over Christmas and New Year's and a general slowdown in the summers.
They handle crowds of all sizes. They have done waffle feeds for private graduation parties and for major events. If needed, two teams will work at an event. "We can manage crowds at the rate of 500 plates an hour," Cal said.
The 8-inch waffles are served directly from the iron to the plate. The business also provides a variety of syrup and toppings and pork sausages in its basic service. Strawberries cost extra, as do beverages. Most organizations are able to provide juice and coffee, they said.
"It's kinda been a fun little business," Cal said. It has been nice for them to continue to live in a small town and have a business with such a wide reach, he added.