The first black waffle attempt came out cakey. And if you’re talking technicalities, it was a Belgian waffle.
“No, these are black waffles,” reiterates Josh Reed, co-owner and chef of Brewer’s Waffles, which opened July 14.
He gives an abrupt chuckle, but he’s serious. His combination of multiple recipes and final product — tried and tested by expert critics, commonly known as his wife and son — is an ode to Blackwell, a predominantly black South Side neighborhood Reed says faces culture erasure.
Ajay Brewer, owner of Brewer’s Cafe and Brewer’s Waffles, encourages him to continue. He points to the back of the t-shirt worn by investor and longtime friend James Harris that says “A Better Waffle, A Better Experience.”
“We’re going to make it something bigger than a waffle,” Reed says, reflecting on Belgium’s colonization and bloody massacres in the Congo. “So many people are profiting off the destruction of our culture that we got to set examples that we’re able to profit off the uplift of our culture.”
So yes, Reed says, Brewers Waffles are black waffles. And a conversation starter. The Well, an art space adjacent to the waffles and milkshakes shop, is both a gallery representing local artists and a platform for public forums on difficult topics, such as mental health and trauma.
For Reed, Brewer and Harris, this nook on Hull Street serves an important purpose: It gives people an excuse to not leave South Side.
“Food equalizes it all.” Brewer says. “Put it in front of me. We’re going to all eat at the same time.”
Reed nods. Constructing the menu was about simplicity and keeping it approachable. While Brewer prefers a classic plain waffle, Reed opts for his secret menu and makes a waffle sandwich. Harris goes for the Munford, which features Granny Smith apples, craisins, lemon zest and caramel.
There’s the option to build your own, starting with a traditional, cornbread or gluten-free waffle. Toppings include things like vegan sausage, fried eggs and peanut butter cups, with both savory and sweet sauces such as a Nutella drizzle and Hollandaise.
When it came to naming the waffles, Brewer wanted to celebrate Richmond.
“It was first around the streets, but some of these streets are named after some pretty shitty people,” Brewer says. “If you owned slaves, I don’t give a fuck about what you did in life, you’re not a good person.”
Ultimately, he settled on Richmond Public Schools, such as Blackwell, Holton and Armstrong. Don’t expect to find Thomas Jefferson on the list.
As for the milkshakes, the ice cream is sourced from Scoop RVA, with mix-ins including fruit, Snickers bars and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Reed’s next step, inspired by the concept of taking a box of doughnuts into work, is to make mini waffles available by the dozen.
Brewer turns around his “The Flash” hat, which he borrowed from his son that morning, and adds that family remains central to everything they do. In an Instagram promotional video, Brewer turns to his son, Parker, and says “You’re going to be a huge part of it.”
Parker is a Brewer’s Waffles partner, owns six candy stands and plans to bike 40 miles to raise money for the Blackwell parent teacher association. He’s 4 years old.
As Brewer looks around, he counts eight black-owned businesses on this block alone and grins.
So what does that mean for them?
1311 Hull St.
Mondays - Thursdays 7 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Fridays 7 - 12 a.m.
Saturdays 8 - 12 a.m.
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