Mohd Shafiq Ahamed Sathali had the most awesome waffle in London three years ago. The 'Strawberry Heaven' waffles were simply delicious, light, fluffy and scented with Maple syrup.
That experience had the young man craving for more and he soon became hooked on Wafflemeister.
Since he couldn't get it in Malaysia, he decided to be the first franchisee of Wafflemeister from this region.
"I was toying with the idea for quite sometime until I decided it was time to take the plunge and start the business.
"After doing some logistics and business planning with the support of my family, I decided to open Wafflemeister's first international franchise last year," said Shafiq, whose enterprising family includes grandfather Datuk Habib Mohamed, the founder of Habib Jewels, his uncle Datuk Meer Habib, who is the company's managing director and executive director, and his parents.
Shafiq, who was then running a 7-11 outlet in USJ 1, took one-and-a-half years to prepare himself and do the ground work before he opened the outlet in September last year.
He got in touch with the owner, creator and chief executive officer of Wafflemeister, Alex Troullier, who first conceived the idea of setting up the waffle company while studying for his MBA at Imperial College Business School in 1999.
"I realised the potential and I know it is a big investment. When Troullier invited me for a meeting in London in 2012, I knew there was no turning back. I just had to make the business arrangement work, no matter the cost," said the 26-year-old who had to delay the launch of Wafflemeister as it was going through a rebranding exercise.
Back in Malaysia, Shafiq, who is managing director and owner of Wafflemeister Malaysia, which is owned by Goldhill Alliance Sdn Bhd, had to conceptualise the whole store outlook at Suria KLCC.
"I had my grandfather and my uncle to thank for their support and guidance. It was quite a long process and I'm glad I was stubborn enough to pull through all the small hiccups along the way. I just wanted to make sure my store looked premium enough for customers to walk in," he said.
With no experience in franchising and being a fresh graduate at that time, he had no choice but to learn the drill. It took him a while to study the franchise system as he had to start from scratch.
With limited finances and manpower, Shafiq had to do everything himself, like sweeping, mopping the floor and managing the store.
He also went for a month-long training with a few of his staff members before opening the Wafflemeister outlet.
For Shafiq, nothing comes easy and it all boils down to hard work and dedication.
"To endure all the challenges in business, you must have a passion for it and you must believe in the product. In my case, I believe in Wafflemeister and I have a lot of passion for it," said Shafiq, who aspires to start a fashion business soon.
Wafflemeister's secret recipe can be traced back to a family in Liege, Belgium who made their first waffle in 1950.
Today, the recipe remains unchanged. The owner makes sure all the ingredients are natural, GM-free with no preservatives.
"There is no large factory churning out these waffles. The dough (not batter) is freshly prepared in Belgium and frozen into balls before being exported to all the different stores," said Shafiq.
He added, the dough, which is complete with sugar pellets, is then pressed out in the waffle iron so that the waffle is warm and fluffy.
"The waffle is served with different toppings - Belgian chocolate fudge (dark, milk and white), freshly whipped cream, marshmallows, Oreo cookies, maple syrup, honey, coconut flakes, ground almonds, mixed nuts and fresh fruits like strawberries, blueberries or bananas - depending on the flavour. One could also opt for powdered sugar or cinnamon sprinkle."
There is also a choice of a scoop or cone of gelato, either an authentic Italian style gelato made with natural ingredients like the rich Vanilla Bean flavour enhanced with Madagascan vanilla or Strawberry Chunky flavour that comes from the exclusive Senga Sengana strawberries or the walnut and coconut gelato with crunchy caramelised walnuts and coconut flakes.
For something more refreshing, Shafiq recommended the mango sorbet made from the Indian Alphonso mango.
Wafflemeister officially opened its first branch in Embankment in London and later, branched out to South Kensington, Portobello Road, Oxford Street and Baker Street as well as Abu Dhabi before reaching our shores.
Wafflemeister is the world's first brand dedicated to selling authentic handmade Belgian Waffles and natural gelato.
In 2013, Wafflemeister sold over 1 million Waffles, 12 tonnes of gelato and 10,000 milkshakes.
Despite all the initial hiccups, business at Wafflemeister in KLCC has been very encouraging.
They already have a set of loyal customers who walk in and order their favourite waffles.
"It is not easy to be at the helm. I have to sacrifice my time and social life. Since this is my baby, I have to work hard. I have to stay focussed no matter what it takes," said Shafiq, a Taylors University graduate in marketing who majored in finance.
Shafiq, who has seven employees running the store, is keen to open another Wafflemeister outlet in Singapore and more stores in the Klang Valley soon.
"Opening an international franchise will take us to another level," he said.
He also believes in the hands-on approach. He intends to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather.
He is also quite selective about choosing the right people to work for him.
"I take in only dedicated and committed people who are passionate about the product. They need to share my dream," said Shafiq, who is the only son of three siblings.