Local couple’s stroopwafel company is their version of the 'American Dream'
ELKHART COUNTY, Ind.—Bianca Letens grew up in a small town in the northern part of the Netherlands so tiny that no one used a car.
“We didn’t need one, we could get everywhere by bike,” Bianca said.
When she was 16-years-old, the high school student traded in the bike ride for a plane trip and traveled over 4,000 miles from her hometown to Nappanee to study as an exchange student at NorthWood High School.
During her time in Elkhart County, Bianca lived with two different host families: the Hartmans and the Curtises.
Over the years, she kept up with them, and after marrying her husband, Patrick, in 1998, the relationships she kept with her American families proved to be life-changing.
“We were thinking about what we would do and my host dad, Jim Hartman, said ‘why don’t you sell the syrup waffles in the United States,’ because we were always bringing the syrup waffles to them ,” Bianca said.
Bianca and Patrick learned the art of making stroopwafels, also known as syrup waffles, while living in the Netherlands. It was in their garage that the Dutch Waffle Company was born.
The couple knew their hearts belonged in the United States, so they applied for a visa but were denied. Twice.
“We’d sold our house. We thought we were going to be approved,” Bianca said.
The Letens continued on with their lives in Europe, raising three daughters, and working in other industries like tourism and sales, all the while placing their syrup waffle business on the back burner.
When their eldest daughter expressed interest in attending Bethel University, the couple decided to give the visa process one more try.
“We prayed,” Bianca said. “We said we were going to try it one more time. And it worked.”
In July 2019, the Letens again sold their house and packed up their family after getting their necessary visas. They arrived in Elkhart County in November and sold their first batch of stroopwafels in December, which reignited their dream of owning Dutch Waffle Company.
“Life is not a race. It’s a marathon,” Patrick said.
In a nod to the family that helped them achieve their dream, the Letens have a nickname for their sweet desserts.
“We bake the big syrup waffles at Rentown and call them ‘Jimbo’ after my host father,” Bianca said.
The couple spends Saturdays baking the tasty treat at Rentown in Bremen and delivers the syrup waffles to stores across Michiana throughout the week.
“It’s difficult to stay small because we thought we would gradually grow but now there are already people asking if we can bake them by the semi-truck load,” Patrick said.
The Dutch Waffle Company’s stroopwafels are currently sold in over thirty stores in the area, including at ADEC in Bristol and Goshen, Bamber Superette in South Bend, Brew Ha Ha in Niles, Coffee Depot in Syracuse, Culinary Mill in Nappannee, DeLo’s Café in South Bend, Grandma’s Pantry in Wakarusa, Harding’s in Middlebury, Harvest Coffee in Milford, Indiana Rug Company’s Gift Shop in Mishawaka, Macri’s Italian Bakery in South Bend, and more.
What exactly is a stroopwafel?
“It’s like two wafers and in the middle is a caramel filling,” Bianca said.
Stroopwafels, according to the Letens, originated in 18th century Gouda. They were made from cookie crumbs and leftover dough with syrup poured over them and nicknamed the “poor man’s cookie.”
Today, stroopwafels are available all over the world.
The dessert’s name directly translates to “syrup waffle.”
According to Patrick, the hardest part is getting the right dough, as he bakes the treat without any artificial flavoring or additives.
Then, he uses one of two waffle machines he brought with him from the Netherlands to bake them.
“Then, you cut them, you slice them, you fill them with syrup, cool them down, single wrap them and double wrap them,” Patrick said.
Bianca and Patrick both prefer to eat stroopwafels at room temperature but they said customers also freeze them before eating them.
Most popularly, they are eaten with a cup of tea or coffee, as to give the waffle a bit of warmth.