Congratulations to Nhon Ma, owner of Zinneken’s and winner of $1,000 as one of the runners up in our Small Biz, Big Ideas competition. We asked him to share a little bit more about his business and his big idea.
Tell us about yourself and you how you first got involved in small business?
The idea of Zinneken’s was born from a culinary passion.
My professional career has involved myself in many business endeavors across many geographic areas, but I have remained firmly rooted in the food industry. As a child and young adult, I was immersed in the family restaurant business, first as witness to and taster of my mother’s culinary creations and then as a staff member in the restaurant’s daily operations. My mother, now retired, was the first and only Asian chef to receive a starred rating from the Michelin Guide in Europe, a rating she held continuously for more than 25 years.
Having no ambition to open a full-service restaurant and sensing the increasing demand for quality alternative snacks in the US market, me and my business partner Bertrand, simply decided to share a childhood passion with a larger audience in the United States.
Tell Us About How and When You Started Your Business?
After more than one year of market research, we’ve opened our first retail bakery location in Harvard Square in 2011. Me and my business partner made a tremendous amount of trips between Europe and the US to observe the waffle market and look for a first location. We decided to come to Boston because of its international feel. Being Belgian natives, we were sure that we would propose one of the best Liege waffle in the US when it comes to taste, texture and aroma.
Introducing a new product in a new market hasn’t been easy and that is probably the reason why we haven’t branded our waffles as “”Belgian waffles””. Just to avoid any confusion with the Belgian waffles we find in most dinners in America.
Most of our customers never has an authentic Liege or Brussels waffle before coming to Zinneken’s but that has changed over time as we have build up our reputation based on the quality of ingredients that we use.
Because we have funded Zinneken’s with our savings and without external investors or loans, we didn’t have the financial capacity to open multiple locations in a short amount of time. We have decided to open one location at a time and organically.
In 2014, we started to distribute our Belgian waffle dough to other businesses outside the Boston area. Today, we have our Zinneken’s waffles sold by other businesses in Texas, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Las Vegas, California and Chicago.
How Did You Feel When You Found Out You Won the Prize?
We thought that we had no chance to win but it was amazing to be rewarded by Shopkeep for an innovative and fun idea.
What Was Your Small Biz, Big Idea?
Our idea was to mount waffle cast irons on an Italian Vespa motorcycle so we could go anywhere to bake fresh waffle. Waffles have always existed but not the way we want to introduce it.
We got the inspiration five years ago (in 2009) when we saw Vespa’s mounted with espresso coffee machines across the cities of Paris and in Brussels.”
What is Your Intention With The Money? How will you implement the idea?