When most people are bored, they meet a friend, go for a coffee, maybe plan a trip somewhere. Not Alyssa. “I’d always wanted to build ‘something’”. She suddenly had the time to figure out what that was and promptly set about researching cafés. “There are plenty of tearooms and restaurants in Geneva but there aren’t many that are particularly ‘fun’. There’s a gap in the market.“ She toyed with the idea of cookies for a while but settled on waffles.
By mid-April, Alyssa had developed a full business plan, complete with market analysis and a five-year financial projection. Her project was gaining traction – fast! “By then I had immersed myself so much in the idea, there was no turning back. Plus, I’d told everyone I was opening a tearoom.” Even the year-long ‘Diplôme du Cafetier’ qualification required of all food vendors did not put her off. “It covers everything from insurance to accounting, recruitment, hygiene regulations and fire hazards. It was tough as I was still working 100% but I learned so much.”
Meanwhile she approached her boss, compliance and ultimately the Partners to ensure that her endeavour did not conflict or interfere in any way with her job at the bank. “I was about to pour my wedding budget into this thing, it had to be airtight!”. With their go-ahead, she officially added her Socièté à responsabilité limitée to the Geneva commercial register in December 2020 and began to look for premises.
“The scouting skills I used when searching for a wedding venue were transferable and I put them to good use when looking for the right shop space.” After many disappointing visits, Alyssa found a gem just next to the park and along a tram route. “The floors needed redoing and I had to install a kitchen but with lock-down easing I found people to carry out the jobs pretty easily.”
Next came design. “It was actually my brother’s idea to paint the whole place pink! He said if you want to stand out, you have to go all in.” That, combined with an interior designer friend’s quirky touch, is how Alyssa ended up with flamingo wallpaper, gorillas and cacti on the shelves and LED angel wings on the wall. Ironically perhaps, the space was formerly a luxury wedding dress boutique. “I kept the dressing room curtain rail and lighting, it makes a cosy, nearly private booth within the tearoom.”
The final steps saw her developing a logo, hiring and training staff, defining the menu and sourcing organic suppliers before Waffle of Wonder opened its doors to the public in July 2021 with 36 seats amid strict social distancing restrictions. “It was still that phase where you had to tap in and out to keep track of where you’d been and who you’d been in contact with.” But people came. And kept coming back for more.
Which brings us to these wonderful waffles… “This is not just any old waffle!” Alyssa waves a round waffle in the air. “We serve both kinds. This is the Liège, slightly sweet, caramelised and round. The Bruxelles is fluffy and square. I went to Belgium to work with a pâtissier and get the recipes just right.” Is that how she came up with the name ‘Waffle of Wonder’? “No, actually that was my husband-to-be’s idea! We wanted something with ‘wow’ effect.”
Alyssa has kept her day job at the bank so having the right staff at the tearoom is essential, “I want people to feel welcome when they come, above all else, the staff have to be friendly.” She hires them, trains them, writes the protocols for each item on the menu and is quick to respond to feedback. “I went in thinking people would mostly order to go, turns out unlike in Brussels, they want to stay and eat with a knife and fork!”. She invested in pretty crockery. People started bringing their kids; she provided highchairs and added a ‘design your own’ waffle to the menu (think smarties and rainbow sprinkles).
How does she manage with her day job? “I work a lot in the evenings and weekends. I hire good people. I try not to work on staff timetables at 3am when I can’t sleep! At least not too often.” She’s constantly innovating, working with the seasons to keep menus fresh and entice people to keep on coming back.
They say it takes three years for a business to be profitable, but not for Alyssa, who has no plans to start slowing down. “Maybe I’ll expand into Nyon, maybe I’ll do events and special occasions, we’ll see.” For now, she has another project to focus on. Alyssa and her husband-to-be are expecting their first child in December.
When she is not setting up tearooms in the middle of a pandemic, Alyssa is a Middle Officer in the Hedge Funds team of Pictet Alternative Advisors.