THE WAFFLE QUEEN: STINE AASLAND
Photo Credit: Jeff Wheeler for the Star Tribune
Move over Queen Elizabeth II and Daenerys Targaryen Queen of Dragons, a new queen is taking over. Meet Stine Aasland of Nordic Waffles aka The Waffle Queen! I first heard of Stine when I picked up her book We Love Waffles at a local Scandinavian shop and quickly fell in love with her recipes. I was lucky enough to meet her recently at Nordic Fest in Decorah, Iowa and taste one of her waffles made by her fabulous team. My husband and I ended up eating multiple of them.
Stine has been hard at work earning her title since she was 21 years old, got a franchise gas station in Oslo, and begin making waffles on site. They served their own batter recipe (which follows an in-home tradition in Norway) and quickly gained popularity with her customers. At one point in time they needed to switch to a pre-made batter to be more efficient, however it did not go unnoticed by her customers making it necessary to switch back to their original recipe.
Due to the popularity of her recipe, Stine ultimately cancelled the franchise in 2008 and opened her own waffle company. This move allowed her to work with gas stations and other stores by using her recipe and custom-made waffle iron to sell the waffles themselves. This eventually made her company the largest waffle business in Norway.
In 2014 Stine sold her business and made the leap of faith to move to the place of opportunity, the USA. When I asked her why she moved she said that "Norway has such a small population compared to the US that there is really only room for 2-3 big players in business before the market is tapped out." America on the other hand is known for the opposite, a big population with an entrepreneurial spirit that is available to anyone who wants to make the effort. Setting up a business has been "easier here than in Norway. The US is business friendly, has a tradition of winning culture and appreciates entrepreneurship." I found it interesting to see a positive view of America from a foreign perspective especially given it is from Scandinavia, which is often voted the happiest place in the world to live.
She moved to the Twin Cities to get her start, but shortly thereafter she moved again to Grand Forks, ND to seek assistance from the Grand Forks Center for Innovation, an incubator for start ups. This incubator helped her test different recipes in the marketplace, write a business plan, and make more connections in the Midwest market. I asked her if she knew that the Midwest had such a high density of Scandinavian influenced heritage prior to her moving here and she responded "No, I had no idea. It even sometimes feels more Norwegian than Norway. It is my home away from home."
Once she had refined her business, Stine moved back to Minneapolis, MN and got to work building her business. The testing she conducted in ND allowed her to adopt her menu to the American taste for sweetness. Traditionally Americans eat waffles with syrup, but Stine learned that we also desire cheese, bacon, cinnamon, and sweetness- very sweet. As an example, in Norway you can get a waffle with berries and sour cream from a food truck, but over here the sour cream has been modified to include vanilla to boost the sweetness a little. In regards to the love for bacon and cheese, the All Day Breakfast waffle is her all time bestseller here in the US.
You may wonder why I focus so much on waffles in my blog. As I have stated before, "koselig" is the idea of coziness, happiness, joy, and feeling content in the moment. It is really a hard word to describe in English since we don't have a direct translation for it, but is often a feeling that is obtained through spending time with people. This is exactly where waffles come in. In Norway it is tradition to have waffle batter ready just in case any company stops over unexpectedly. Waffles aren't really served for breakfast like they are here, but more often as a snack, treat or even for dinner. The idea that the waffle can be eaten at any time and is often eaten in the company of others is what koselig is all about. Enjoying good food, with wonderful people, having conversation and social connections brings out great feelings of warmth and appreciation for the moment.
If you are interested in learning more about Stine, you can pick up her book on Amazon.com or any local Scandinavian gift shop. You can also visit her website at NordicWaffles.com which lists out each location that sells her waffle recipe. The waffles are predominantly available in the Twin Cities metro, but she is currently expanding into WI as well!