“There are many so-called Belgian waffles here in Manila that are not—not—Belgian waffles,” insists Thomas Zicot, one of the owners of Monsieur Waffles. As a young business, having only launched in April and have still yet to establish a physical store, Monsieur Waffles has been gaining the attention it deserves for its products.
The idea of serving waffles was born out of a joke with Zicot’s father, who was primarily concerned with what he was going to be doing for the remainder of his life. He and co-owner Julien Guiot used to have corporate jobs in Belgium, and they both had no experience with baking or cooking.
The nature of their past careers required them to go back and forth between the Philippines and Belgium and it’s through this that they were able to experience (and appreciate) the culture and lifestyle of Filipinos. After crossing paths again and going into multiple lengthy discussions, the pair finally decided to start a business, enough to make them settle long term in the country.
What they envision Monsieur Waffles to be is the fusion of Belgian and Filipino flavors. Their claim to fame? The first Belgians to come up with authentic Belgian waffles while upgrading and adapting it to the Filipino palate.
“[The Filipino palate is] sweet with a capital ’S.’ Super, super sweet. It took us a few months to come up with the final recipe for the waffle—it was either not sweet enough, crusty enough, or it was too big, too hot, too cold—and to decide which toppings we were going to blend with the waffles so that the Filipino will love it, besides adobo,” Zicot says.
“[It could be restaurants and hotels, too] as long as there is support for local communities. Not just buying or importing from other countries while you have the resources here—it doesn’t make sense,” Thomas Zicot adds.
Zicot and Guiot wanted to create high quality products made with ingredients harvested from the local farming community. The fact that the Philippines is rich in resources isn’t unknown to them so they want to constantly add local produce to the menu. They use coconut sugar from Quezon Province and harvest strawberries from Baguio. Their mangoes, honey, milk, and eggs are all local as well. Basically, all the best ingredients from different provinces go into their waffles.
“We process the fruits ourselves. It’s much more like what we do with the food that we pick directly in the garden back at home in Belgium,” explains Guiot. “When you have a small garden, you have at least one type of food that you will pick when it’s fresh—in spring or summer—and it’s ready to eat.”
Currently, Monsieur Waffles has partnered with SGD Coffee, a local shop that uses award-winning beans from Sagada, while also searching for other local coffee shops to work with. What they are looking for in a partnership is the kind that has the same vision as they do—it’s not about the quantity but that which highlights the quality of a product through another product (such as the case with Philippine coffee and Belgian waffles).
“[It could be restaurants and hotels, too] as long as there is support for local communities. Not just buying or importing from other countries while you have the resources here—it doesn’t make sense,” Zicot adds.
“During the F&B Summit, I really liked what [Hindy Weber-Tantoco] said about going to the palengke and not buying apples and pears—you know that it didn’t come from the Philippines as it cannot be grown here. So why would you buy in the palengke something that is imported, when it’s easy for them to sell anything but Philippine products?” Guiot says.
Guiot stresses that it also doesn’t make sense to buy products from other countries that require plane rides when you can get it 10 kilometers away. Unfortunately, this is something they see in Filipinos—what matters most is how products are priced.
Guiot and Zicot want their products to be profitable yet affordable enough for people to taste the authenticity of the recipe while appreciating homegrown produce. Although being prudent about the value of money is completely understandable, it’s just as important to look beyond it and consider the long-term aspect. As Zicot points out, it’s not just about waffles anymore. This goes for all the other items found elsewhere.
“During the F&B Summit, I really liked what [Hindy Weber-Tantoco] said about going to the palengke and not buying apples and pears—you know that it didn’t come from the Philippines as it cannot be grown here. So why would you buy in the palengke something that is imported, when it’s easy for them to sell anything but Philippine products? I was really amazed because it makes sense. For us, it’s exactly the same vision. If I go to the palengke, I will not buy apples or pears. I will buy mangoes or dragonfruit—all these foods that you can find here,” Guiot says.
When they personally go to farms, they make it a point to converse with the people by trying to speak a few Filipino words as much as they can. This way, there’s a closer bond between them, one that isn’t purely transactional. They even talked about their usual routine of shopping in Divisoria from the regulars they’ve already established trust with despite comments of not being the best place for foreigners.
“You wouldn’t find that investment back in Belgium. It’s [a] hassle to find providers there that will help you as much as the Filipinos,” Guiot explains.
According to them, there are more procedures, contracts, and papers in Belgium compared to the Philippines. But what they observed here is that as long as you’re present in the business, the trust is there as well. Respect and trust are key principles they’ve established their business on so both Guiot and Zicot go the extra mile to connect with Filipinos. A lot of people expect them to be hassled because of their foreign roots. But they’ve been here for almost two years already and still have no regrets, saying that there’s much more insecurity in their hometown than here.
They’re looking forward to extending their menu varieties, which means incorporating more local ingredients in the whole authentic Belgian Waffle experience.
Guiot and Zicot aren’t aggressive in promoting Monsieur Waffles’ products presently. As a young, local business, they simply go with the flow and rely on people sharing their experience with their food. They understand that if they go big on marketing, they’re going to have to keep up with the high-volume pace of orders, which will be difficult as it’s only the two of them making the waffles. It’s about sticking to what they’re capable of at the moment.
Guiot and Zicot are currently in the process of establishing Monsieur Waffles in established coffee shops, prioritizing quality, and adapting to the opportunities their customers give them. They’re looking forward to extending their menu varieties, which means incorporating more local ingredients in the whole authentic Belgian waffle experience.