We chat with the San Jose, Calif., café about how one specific food item—the waffle—has benefited their coffee business.
BY KATRINA YENTCH
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Nirvana Soul
Last week, we began exploring how food programs can be beneficial to your coffee business. Today, we’re breaking down the waffle menu at Nirvana Soul, a coffee shop based in San Jose, Calif. Sometimes, offering an entire brunch menu can be intimidating. So it made sense to reach out to a business that specializes in one food item that could be both a savory and sweet option for patrons looking for something to pair with their coffee.
Nirvana Soul is owned by sisters Jeronica Macey and Be’Anka Ashaolu, who decided to open their café with a food program right away upon opening. The café is the first Black female-owned coffee business in San Jose. It also opened during the pandemic in summer 2020. Thus, the waffle proved to be a valuable to-go item in conjunction with the takeaway restrictions of the city at the time. As Jesse of Back the Yards Coffee suggested in the last edition, even outside of the pandemic, takeaway items prove to be more successful in the café environment since more people are grabbing items to-go at coffee shops than restaurants.
Selecting a Signature Item
In order to narrow the focus of Nirvana Soul’s food program, Be’Anka (she/her) shares that they focused on what they didn’t want to sell—which was toast. As some of you may know, Aussie-style brunch toasts have become a popular staple on many coffee shop menus over the last several years. However, for Jeronica, her work with other cafés proved that this item may have been too much of a hassle for the team to take on at Nirvana Soul. Eventually, they settled on waffles.
“What felt right to us was comfort food: specifically, waffles‚both sweet and savory,” she says. “There’s a breakfast restaurant on the Southside that has waffles I’ve enjoyed for years. We used them as a model for what we wanted to create as our base, and then worked with our in-house waffle master/CFO/head of products to determine flavors we’d all love.”
The four staple flavors that patrons can find at Nirvana Soul are Bacon Cheddar, Chorizo con Queso (pork sausage with cheese), Churro, and a classic waffle. Nirvana Soul also creates seasonal flavors that reflect the celebration or holiday at the time, like the Juneteenth red velvet Freedom Waffle and a Birthday Waffle inspired by their Celebration Latte (a latte that has cake-batter-flavored syrup). The food program is super customizable to their team’s inspirations and preferences, and is also accompanied by pastries from The French Spot and oatmeal and granola parfaits.
With creative waffle combinations come equally colorful drinks. For folks who appreciate unique signature drinks, options include the Dirty Diana (beet powder, chai, espresso, milk), the White Rose Latte (espresso, milk, white chocolate, rose), the Holiday Matcha (milk, white chocolate, matcha, milk), and more. “We knew we wanted to offer comparable beverages to other coffee shops that would be familiar, but also unique and exciting beverages that would allow folks unfamiliar with specialty coffee to safely try something new,” Be’Anka explains.
The Bottom Line Boost of a Food Program
So far, the waffles have proven to be a mainstay for Nirvana Soul. When it comes to profit margins from food, Be’Anka and Jeronica see a 35% profit. Additionally, they do not have to hire another employee to handle the food program alone. They’ve also developed a system for creating batter that results in little waste. For efficiency, they hire a prep cook to get all of the items ready for baristas beforehand so they don’t need to do so when receiving orders for them.
When asked about the frequency of waffle orders, Be’Anka says that so far, they’ve seen an uptick in sales during the holiday season but ultimately, because they are a coffee shop, people are coming for just that. However, the intoxicating scent of freshly cooked waffles is pretty alluring upon entering the doors of Nirvana Soul.
Advice that Be’Anka shares when starting a food program at your café is to find familiarity with the items and embrace suggestions from others.
“Focus and familiarity is really important for your own sanity and for your customers,” she says. “To keep ourselves from getting too overwhelmed, we have a small, simple menu of items that doesn’t change. But we have so many ideas for different types of waffles and drinks, so we don’t have a problem experimenting for short periods of time too. We always say, ‘Let the people decide!’ Between our standard menu, barista experiments, customer recommendations, and pop-ups with local pastry chefs, we’re able to keep things exciting around here.”
Nirvana Soul is located at 315 S. 1st St., San Jose, Calif.