What is your full name, title, and business name?
Aimee and Brandon Harper, Owners, Belgian Iron Wafel Company
Give us a summary of your business in 200 words or less.
Belgian Iron is a specialty waffle and coffee stop in the heart of Short North. We feature our house-made Liege-style dough waffles, made with sweet and savory toppings.
How did the idea for your business come about?
We had our first Liege waffle while vacationing out west. While we sat in the waffle shop, we both started talking about how Columbus needed the concept and how we would turn it up a few notches and make it something unique in its own right. When we returned to Columbus a few days later, the challenge was on and we were already planning our first store!
What was the turning point for your business? Was there a moment you knew you had something special?
The turning point was the day we tried this type of waffle for the first time. There was no question between the two of us about what we wanted to do. We knew it was unique and so we started fishing it around to some of our friends, who gladly sat for many nights of test kitchens and listening to our crazy ideas. We wanted to be something different, so when our friends (who are brutally honest) said they liked it we thought, why not just go for it?
What does it mean to you to be an entrepreneur and business owner?
To us it means building a platform to become a productive member of our community. We’d like to be in a position someday to support and help develop other small businesses who have ideas and dreams and goals.
What does the city of Columbus mean to your business?
Columbus is EVERYTHING to us! This city has been incredible so far and we are so thankful for their support for small businesses. We couldn’t ask for a better community of people behind us.
Are you from Columbus? If not, please explain what brought you to here and ultimately what made you stay.
Brandon grew up here, so he’s always lived in the Columbus area. Aimee moved to Columbus for law school and stuck around because she loved it so much!
What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to anyone wanting to start a business?
Just do it. It might fall flat on its face or it might succeed like crazy. Either way, you will learn more than you ever would have if you didn’t do it. Also, ask for help! Don’t rely on just yourself- there is a huge outpouring of people supporting small businesses and we are all in the same boat- we all want to watch you do well.
What do you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before starting your business?
The ups are super high and the downs are so incredibly low. We both wish we knew how to keep that a bit more steady before we dove in head-first.
What’s the most challenging part of your business (i.e, what keeps you up at night)?
Paperwork. So. Much. Paperwork.
Every business owner has a flaw. What’s yours?
Brandon’s flaw is organization. Aimee’s flaw is that she is a bit impulsive when she gets excited about ideas.
Why do you think most business owners fail? What has made you different?
Businesses fail for lots of reasons and I’m not totally sure we can say we are different just yet since we are so new, it can still fail! But, one of the things we are very careful on is adjusting our business to the feedback we get from our customers. Listening and embracing change has been our focus and we plan to stick with it.
Oh yeah, and the paperwork. Lots of math. Ugh!
What was your biggest mistake and what did it cost you?
We trusted too much. Early on, we genuinely believed people at their word and believed they were doing what they said they were doing. It was a very painful time for us when we found out that was not the case. It nearly cost us everything we owned.
What tool has helped you the most for your business (invoicing, accounting, shipping, plugin for website, etc.)?
This is going to sound strange, but we think the tool that has helped us the most is the people involved in helping us open and develop into the business we are becoming.
When did you know it was time to expand your business, make your first hire, etc.?
Well, that would be the day we decided to do it. Specifically, September 16, 2016. That was the day we knew we were hiring our current chef, Tom Brown, who has been incredible.
What was an idea that you spent a lot of time on or thought would make a big difference in your business that didn’t pan out.
Well… we do have one dish that we really LOVED the taste of- a lobster and white wine sauce with mango salsa. We worked on it for months trying to make it look presentable, but it just wasn’t working out. We canned the topping idea due to how it looked, but we invested SO much time and effort into making it work. Brandon is particularly “salty” about this and claims that it will someday make a debut onto the menu again.
What is something that your business spends a lot of money on that’s worth it?
Good bacon and good coffee.
What is something you’re working on now that you’re very excited about?
We are looking forward to building our party and catering platform! Aimee has a love for planning parties and celebrating others, and we have a great space to do that since our open hours are somewhat limited, especially during the week.
What form of marketing is the most valuable for you?
Social media, for sure!
Who is your best Columbus resource (accountant, lawyer, marketer, etc.)?
Our marketing company, function5– they do all the creative stuff that we just aren’t very good at.
Who do you vent to when you have a business problem?
Aimee vents her friend, Andrea, who patiently listens and fills up wine glasses as the night goes on. Brandon vents to Aimee, causing Andrea to patiently listen and continue to fill up wine glasses.
Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?
Not sure, we are just going with it and enjoying where we are now.
What was the single worst decision you made regarding your business and how’d you recover?
Trusting the wrong people upfront. To recover, we had to use lawyers and had people behind us to help us back up on our feet, and we are FOREVER grateful.
When you’re stressed or overwhelmed, what do you do to overcome this feeling?
We remember that it is our job as business owners to figure it out. There is always a way to manage it, and realizing that has been super important for us to get over the overwhelming feeling.
What’s one component of entrepreneurship that’s much different than what most people think?
You don’t sit back and cash in. Entrepreneurship is a grind.
What’s your end goal with the business? Is this something you want to pass down to your kids or would you like to eventually sell?
We are not too sure yet. We are focusing on being the best we can right now, and believe that we will find our way in doing so.
What other entrepreneur do you look up to most?
Aimee looks up to her mother, Susan, who built and maintained a small business as a court reporter for nearly her entire career while raising three kids. Even today, she is one of the most hard working and dedicated entrepreneurs we know!
Brandon looks up to Warren Buffet because he is smart in real estate and investments.
If you had to tell a visitor one thing to do/see/eat in Columbus, what would it be?
The art galleries! We have so many incredible galleries around Short North.