Owner, The Burgundian Coffee & Waffles
Shane Matlock is the founder and owner of The Burgundian Coffee & Waffles, a pop-up shop turned food truck that’s taking Rhode Island by storm. He’s also a Navigant Credit Union member.
The Burgundian specializes in liège waffles – tiny, rich waffle squares embedded with pearl sugar. It should go without saying, but – they’re incredible.
Here’s how his business came to life, and where he sees it going next.
What brought you to start the Burgundian brand? Why liège waffles?
I’ve always wanted to work in food, ever since I was working in a local coffee shop as a teenager. I fell in love with the culture, the community. I didn’t feel like I was just there hawking coffee – I felt like I was a part of a special place that people wanted to visit. To sit and chat, to stick around and join a conversation.
So I always wanted to find my way into the food industry, but I didn’t know what that would look like. Then I joined the Army and was stationed in France – and discovered liège waffles. I had them almost every week. I was totally hooked.
When I finished my stint in the Army, I started to put a lot of thought into this mobile food industry, which was just starting to take off. So I decided to take my newfound love for these waffles and try to turn it into a profitable business.
What was the first step?
I wanted to do something different. My original plan was to buy a double-decker bus and combine the concepts of a brick-and-mortar restaurant and a food truck. We’d set up restaurant-style tables on the top floor of the bus, and do the cooking downstairs.
I quickly realized double-decker buses are expensive. So, the first step was to create a little pop-up shop behind Hope & Main in Warren. I bought a waffle iron, a couple of balls of dough, and just started selling. Starting with the shop was a great opportunity to experiment with new recipes, try out different menu options, and really figure out how this business works.
The pop-up started to take off, and – pretty quickly – I had the real financial data to back up my optimism that this idea could actually work as a viable business. In mid-2018, I worked through the SBA’s Veterans Business Outreach Center to start putting together a business plan. Pretty shortly thereafter, I found Navigant Credit Union and secured my first commercial loan, which I used to buy the truck.
What was it about Navigant that stuck out to you?
The SBA helped me send my business plan and numbers out to a number of financial institutions. I thought I was going to be in a position of asking a bank to trust me – I thought I was going to have to, sort of, “beg” for a loan.
But Navigant called me. Pam LeBreche called me and aggressively pitched Navigant as the best place for me to bring my business. She believed in my idea, and my vision for the brand, from day one – and that was huge for me. Navigant positioned themselves as my partner in this endeavor; not my bank. It was a no-brainer.
So we’re in mid-2018. You have a successful pop-up shop, and now you have a lender on board. When did the truck hit the road?
I closed on my commercial loan with Navigant Credit Union in October of 2018, and bought a truck. We spent the winter working on the truck and getting it up to code – and we started selling out of the truck this past April.
What were those first couple of months like?
They were tough. When I bought the truck, I tested everything out; made sure everything was working; you know, make sure it would start and move. But this is brand-new to me. I can make a really good waffle, but I didn’t know very much about things like fire suppression systems or water tanks.
Then, when we were finally cleared and ready to start selling, I had to start learning the rules and regulations that come with Rhode Island’s food truck industry. Bizarrely, every municipality in Rhode Island has its own set of rules, so that was definitely tough to navigate.
Do you have any favorite spots to serve in the area?
I love the street fairs. The Hope Street Block Party and Wickenden Street Fair are always fun. The German Festival in Walpole is a blast; just picture thousands of people and sausages everywhere. It’s amazing.
Rhode Island also has so many cool, unique breweries that are becoming hot spots for food trucks. We’re lucky, because Rhode Island has really leaned in to this industry. There are so many different events and opportunities to find our customers.
Where do you see the food truck industry going from here?
It’s interesting. The typical pathway for most folks coming through the food industry is to start a pop-up, graduate to a food truck, and then – when you have the name recognition – open a restaurant. Food trucks used to be an industry for aspiring chefs to gain experience and experiment with new things. But now this industry is enormous – and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.
As the industry continues to grow, I’m noticing a bit of a reversal in that typical path. We’re seeing a lot of established, popular brick-and-mortar restaurants invest in mobile trucks. They’re catching on that the truck can serve as a separate revenue stream and a mobile marketing tool, allowing them to find new customers and drive them into their restaurants.
The short answer to where I see the industry going: I think we’re going to see a lot more competition, and I think that’s going to force all of us to work on our crafts and get better. If you’re serving average, unremarkable food, it’s going to be tough to survive.
Shameless plug time: What’s the best thing on your menu right now?
The fried chicken on the waffle is typically our best seller on the truck. But the Sweet Waffle Banana Churro Supreme is giving it a run for its money. That’s cinnamon sugar, bananas, whip and salted caramel on a liège waffle.
I need to get the bus up and running. That process is ongoing, and the funding is approved – but at this point, it’s just jumping through those final hurdles.
From there, we’re just focused on building the brand. I have a thousand little ideas for where I want to take this. I just need to, at some point, meld them together into something real. I’m excited to see what that might be.
Where can our members learn more?
Our website is www.WeAreBurgundians.com. We try our best to post where we’re going to be on Facebook or Instagram.