A few years ago, my husband sent me an Instagram post that Pop Goes the Waffle, a (then) new Belgian waffle food truck, was parked in our Tampa neighborhood and serving up waffle creations. I have high standards when it comes to waffles—an Army brat, I was born in Belgium. On my return visits, I seek out Liège-style waffles, the thicker Belgian waffles with sugar pearls baked inside (my favorite). One bite in and I realized Sara Fludd, the baker, founder, and owner of Pop Goes the Waffle, knew what she was doing: Her Liège waffles’ crunchy sugar pearls burst in my mouth and I was mentally transported back to waffle stands I’ve visited in Belgium.
Though Pop Goes the Waffle has been on Tampa Bay’s food truck scene since 2019, its story traces all the way back to when Fludd was a little girl growing up in the PeeDee region of South Carolina. “I grew up with these southern Black women who cooked everything,” Fludd says. “We grew our own vegetables; they made their own bread. My grandmothers made pancakes and the whole breakfast with grits, eggs, and biscuits.”
While grocery shopping with her mom, young Fludd first glimpsed Eggo waffles in the freezer case. “I was transfixed,” she says. “I’d always had pancakes. I didn’t know what a waffle was, and I begged my mom. For some reason, she let me have them.”
Years later, when Fludd became a mother herself and was raising her family in Connecticut, she asked for a waffle iron for Mother’s Day and told her daughter that they’d make waffles on snow days. “I was new to Connecticut, and it was May, so I hadn’t been through a Connecticut winter yet and I didn’t realize there’d be about fifty snow days,” she says with a laugh. “We ended up with a lot of different recipes and eventually we started putting savory things in there, like grits and eggs. We joked, What if one day we had a waffle shop?”
From Tent to Truck
After her daughter graduated from high school, Fludd and her husband relocated to St. Petersburg, Florida. The couple admired the city’s outdoor markets and its support of small businesses, and that environment inspired Fludd to take the risk she’d long dreamed of. “The idea of being able to start with a low investment and see if the public had appetite for it was one of the things that made us choose the city, too,” she says.
Fludd began in the spring of 2018 by making and selling waffle pops—waffles with various toppings on a stick—mixing the batter at Florida Chef’s Kitchen, a shared space and incubator for small food businesses, and making them to order at outdoor markets. She soon developed a following, and in eight months, she expanded to a food truck. She also started to realize the power of social media.
“I saw Liège waffles on Instagram and thought, ‘Wait a minute…how is there a waffle I’ve never heard of?’” she recalls. She ordered pearl sugar and tried the recipe on the back of the package. She shared her first versions with family and friends, who had strong reactions: “We were like, ‘Oh. My. Gosh. This. Is. AMAZING.”
Fludd started with traditional vanilla waffles and later added seasonal flavors including pumpkin spice, eggnog, and blueberry. (Up next, her team is perfecting a lemon poppyseed waffle for Mother’s Day, and they’re eyeing apple cinnamon for the fall.)
From Truck to Café
A sweet success story: Fludd and her team are putting the finishing touches on the Pop Goes the Waffle café, which will open in late March in Gulfport, just outside St. Petersburg.
In addition to serving waffles, the café will showcase baked goods including olive oil loaves, banana bread, and waffle donuts—small Liège waffles dipped in white or dark chocolate with toppings such as chili mango, pineapple coconut, caramel pecan, and candied orange. Drawing on those South Carolina breakfasts from her childhood, Fludd is also planning a weekend brunch menu that will include biscuits, hash browns, and grits in waffle form.
Fludd’s Waffle Tips
“I feel like people don’t use their waffle irons enough, nor are they adventurous enough,” Fludd says. “While I am a breakfast waffle enthusiast, I encourage folks to go beyond breakfast. A waffle iron is really just a hot way of cooking things.” A few of her creative ideas:
—Mix up your favorite cornbread recipe and make a cornbread waffle to use as a base for chili.
—Leftover mashed potatoes? Mix in some shredded cheddar, scallions, and bacon bits for a loaded baked potato waffle topped with a dollop of sour cream.
—Sweet tooth? Use canned cinnamon bun dough on the waffle iron with a quick glaze of powdered sugar and milk.