PORTLAND, Maine — After three months in downtown Portland, Anya Arsenault is putting her waffle iron away. The owner of Wannawaf, a Belgian waffle and ice cream shop that opened in Monument Square in late-June is calling it quits this weekend.
Low sales, high rent and an oversaturated restaurant marketplace are the culprits, she said.
“Portland is a difficult market to break into,” said Arsenault, who has not had the same problem in Boothbay Harbor, where her first Wannawaf opened 11 years ago.
Though she has a niche product, waffles served with fried chicken, cheeseburgers and as ice cream sundaes, in Portland “you are competing for food dollars” and a lunch trade that could not see their way to waffles midday.
The self-starter poured her own money into the business and was hoping to turn it into a national brand. But after a summer of weak foot traffic, she struggled to pay her employees.
“I was at the bottom of my own personal reserves.”
She will close Sunday at 2 a.m.
Customers redeeming coupons this week weren’t surprised by the news.
“I wondered how a waffle place could do well,” said Robert Cook, ordering a blueberry, bacon and brie waffle on his lunch break Wednesday. Though this was his second visit to the quirky shop, he took the closing in stride.
Arsenault chose the location, on Congress Street directly across from the library, to cater to Maine College of Art and Portland High School students. But despite waffles’ new-found popularity, Taco Bell launched a chicken and waffle taco in parts of the country this summer, she couldn’t make the 800 square-foot space work.
Conversely, she had the best summer to date in Boothbay. The store, which is open from June to Labor Day, appeals to splurge-minded tourists.
“Boothbay is a tourist-based economy. They are more inclined to go for it with a waffle topped with ice cream and hot fudge,” said Arsenault.
Her following in Boothbay remained strong this week, and making waffles for new customers as the farmer’s market was in full swing outside her window, Arsenault stayed on the bright side.
“I came in confident. I look at it as I went to college and learned much more,” she said.
But don’t count her out just yet.
Later this fall she may reinvent herself as a lunch caterer.
“I’m thinking of scrapping the waffle sign off the window and doing boxed lunches,” said Arsenault, who is looking for business partners. “I’m an entrepreneur. I still have to pay the rent.”