A “waffle” lot of work: UT campus business serving late-night waffles

NeverFull waffle business of three thrives at University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

A piping hot cinnamon waffle leaves the griddle and rests in a to-go box before it is delivered straight into the hands of a University of Tennessee student. Melted butter seeps into the waffle’s golden crevices before topped with a generous serving of whipped cream. The 2 a.m. snack craving has turned into a heavenly treat.

Most people attend business school to gain the necessary skills to operate or work for a major corporation or business. However, for three U.T. students, a diploma is not stopping them from reaching their waffle-centered dreams. Becoming entrepreneurs while attending early morning classes, these students are on the fast-track to success. This fast-track includes making batter every night and steadily refilling stock on whipped cream and chocolate chips.

For students Elton Nkwembe, Jonathan Spencer and Bryce Vickers, their success is in the form of a waffle (and a diploma, too.)  The founders of NeverFull Waffles, these young entrepreneurs are cranking out waffles to be delivered as quickly as possible. With an official website and now offering catering services, these students are learning as they go, for their brand-new business has already taken off.

Nkwembe, a sophomore advertising major, Spencer, a junior marketing major and Vickers, a finance major, combined their skills to produce a full-fledged business. As stated on their website, “EltonDon, GooseGato, and BTrill aka Dem Waffle Boyz are three extravagant entrepreneurs who love to have fun and make waffles.”

This business began almost four months ago. Operating out of their shared apartment at The Standard, this business exists within walking distance to the majority of the university’s buildings, making delivery easy for this three-person operation. Adamant that they function as a team of equal counterparts, Nkwembe and Spencer admit Vickers serves as the brains behind the details.

“I just do what he tells me,” Spencer said.

“No. We all do the same things,” Vickers quickly responded. “On the front end, I was just looking into the more technical stuff.”

“He’d be the manager if there was one,” Nkwembe said.

With waffles priced at $3 and free delivery on campus, NeverFull beats most, if not all, delivery competitors in the U.T. campus area. Students burning midnight can satisfy their Fruity Pebbles waffle cravings during those brutal nights in the library.

“We expected it to blow up,” Vickers said.

Vickers, along with the others, recognize their pricing is especially attractive to the demographic they serve. Toppings ranging from whipped cream to blueberries can be added for 50 cents each. Overall, ordering from NeverFull Waffles may be cheaper than a fast-food chain’s value meal.

In addition, allowing students to pay with mobile apps such as Venmo and Apple Pay has helped expand the business’s list of customers. The simplicity of paying electronically makes the thought of warm waffles delivered to one’s door even harder to resist.

Operating seven days a week from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and then waking up in the morning for classes, Nkwembe, Spencer and Vickers are running on minimal sleep—especially on busy nights. Breaks are few and far in between. The sun is almost rising when they finally go to bed most nights.

While spikes in orders used to vary from night to night, Vickers shared that he and his team are better able to anticipate the business. As students themselves, they are in-touch with campus and social events in the evenings, and this can help prepare them for the nights to come.

“We get slammed with orders right as we’re opening,” Vickers said. “There’s really a lot coming through until 12:30,” Vickers said.

The night is young at 12:30 a.m., though. Business usually picks up again around 2:30 [a.m.], Vickers said, for another wave of deliveries.

So how Nkwembe, Spencer and Vickers function day-to-day? Vickers noted that the biggest challenge to running a late-night business is simply “running it.” Truly a team of three, the guys are the ones both preparing and delivering the waffles. “We assure you, your order will be completed and delivered as quickly as humanly possible,” their website guarantees.

Despite what seems like non-stop work, the guys are still able to take breaks from preparing double chocolate chip and confetti waffles.

“We actually do have lives, though,” Nkwembe said as Vickers laughed. “This is just one part of it.” It’s a big part of their lives, but they’ve learned to adapt to the lifestyle. “We were already night owls, though,” Spencer added.

“You’ve gotta train your mind,” Nkwembe said.

As if hot waffles are not enticing enough, the group takes great pride in naming the waffles. Among the bestsellers are Cookies and Creed, Cashmere Drip and Confetti Wap. Nkwembe called the naming process a “group collaboration,” but all three remained tight-lipped regarding any upcoming menu items.

“Shh,” Nkwembe said, holding his finger over his lips. “Top secret.”

NeverFull Waffles offer more than the average plain waffle. The “Super Funky Extra Groovy Party” waffle consists of a confetti waffle with Fruity Pebbles. Incorporating ingredients like strawberry milk, peanut butter and brown sugar cinnamon, their concoctions extend beyond the choices of franchises such as Waffle House and IHOP. Chicken can be added to any waffle as well along with ice cream.

With 11 waffles offered, there is no shortage of options from which to choose. Customers already have regular orders and favorite items.

“I am a huge fan of the confetti wap waffle. It is plain batter but comes with sprinkles, which adds a little excitement. My waffles arrived within 15 minutes of ordering,” recent customer Eleanor Tant, a sophomore resident of Fred Brown Hall, said. “I think these guys are genius. They tapped into a market at U.T. that had yet been realized. All college students want are cheap, late night snacks and they found a way to provide it.”

Although they anticipate a decrease in business as many students return home for the summer, “Dem Waffle Boyz” plan to remain in business. Delivering to surrounding off-campus student housing areas, the group is optimistic that business will remain somewhat steady.

Nkwembe, Spencer and Vickers credit their quick success to social media. Building up a following of more than 1,200 users in a few months, NeverFull’s social media presence is only rising.

“We try to keep the content rolling to stay relevant,” Vickers said. In a lot of their Instagram posts, Vickers himself does the advertising. “I’m just the one to hop in front of the camera. These two [Nkwembe and Spencer] are really funny.” Nkwembe, Spencer and Vickers all try to stay as genuine as possible with their customers.

“We really try to stay unique,” Nkwembe said.

Aside from frequent social media postings, NeverFull Waffles hosts waffle parties to help promote its brand. Since its January opening, the trio frequently hosts free waffle parties to give back to the customers. During April, NeverFull Waffles hosted a ping-pong tournament including gift card prizes and, of course, free waffles.

While Nkwembe, Spencer and Vickers enjoy the extra-small business feel of operating out of an apartment, they dream of opening a restaurant on Cumberland Avenue. “We want to expand as soon as possible,” Vickers said. “We’re really pushing for a store right now.”

This would allow them to literally separate work from home. Recently, NeverFull Waffles announced its public fundraiser to open its own place. Ideally, they want keep serving U.T. campus as the top priority.

In less than a semester, Nkwembe, Spencer and Vickers have added the role of business owners to their role of full-time students. Learning to adapt to their chaotic lifestyle and many nights of minimal sleep, the “Waffle Men” are still thriving. With catering available now, they just provided service at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

“I want to make sure people know that we care about them,” Vickers said. “We’re not just doing this for personal gain. We wouldn’t keep going as hard as we do if we didn’t want to provide for the people that support us.”

Anyone voluntarily stirring waffle batter in the wee hours of the night truly must have a passion for serving customers. For these guys, waffles and quality customer service are the priorities.

Nkwembe, Spencer and Vickers are looking forward to serving students in the summer and fall semesters and will be producing even more waffle flavors in the next few months. They may go through a few more griddles, but their recipes and electric personalities will remain the same.

 

Featured Image from NeverFull Waffle’s website