Benny Kaplan, former chef of Shazz Cafe, will open Wafflich tomorrow on Tennyson Street
When Shazz Cafe opened in Highland in late 2008, people couldn't stop giggling at the name, but no one was laughing at the food, a hyper-local shrine to sustainable greenmarket ingredients that chef/owner Benny Kaplan transformed into innovative culinary emblems that proved that he could meddle with purity while preserving integrity.
But for all of Kaplan's creative sensibilities, Shazz struggled and last August, he abruptly shuttered it. "Despite a loyal base of followers, we didn't have enough people coming in to keep the doors open,"he says. "The location was a little obscure and, ultimately, we just couldn't keep it full enough, so we closed."
The experience soured him, and Kaplan insisted that he'd never have his own restaurant again. "I swore up and down that I'd never open another restaurant -- that I'd either go head chef in someone else's restaurant or travel, but opening my own restaurant, like I did at Shazz, wasn't something I was interested in doing again."
It took just under a year, but Kaplan is now eating his words: Tomorrow, he'll unveil Wafflich, a sandwich and ice cream joint in a pee-wee sized space at 4166 Tennyson Street.
"Even though I said never again, I ended up talking to a friend of mine in Detroit about opening a bagel shop in Denver -- I make awesome bagels -- but the early baking hours and expensive start-up hours deterred me, but all that talk brought me around to waffles," explains Kaplan, noting that a "wafflich" is "like a panino, made with bread, that's pressed in a waffle-maker."
And the concept had been swirling in his brain for years. "Six months after Shazz opened, I was at home and couldn't sleep, so I stayed up all night and wrote a whole business plan for Wafflich," he remembers. "It was a simple concept that didn't require a kitchen, and I thought I could get it started relatively easily and inexpensively."
In December of last year, he put his business plan into practice and inked a lease on the Tennyson Street space -- a former medical marijuana dispensary. "I was looking all over the city -- in Uptown, on South Pearl Street -- for the right space at the right price, and this is the one that popped," he says, adding that business owners in the 'hood also "expressed a need for inexpensive, quick eats."