Behind the counter of « Une gaufrette saperlipopette »

In Liège, somewhere in the rue des Mineurs, between Place du Marché et Hors-Château street, you’ll notice that passersby are apparently irresistibly drawn to a white shop-window, just next to the bus stop. If you come closer you’ll hear them « oooooh ! », « aaaaahhh ! », « holala! ». Just one look will put you under the spell as well: in this tiny boutique, you’ll spot mountains of pancakes, piles of Liège’s waffles, madeleines and other French pastries. Behind the counter, you’ll see 2 or 3 people cooking and serving customers, squeezed in the small space. What will it be for you today? « Une gaufrette, saperlipopette !* »
* you could approximately translate that this way: « A waffle, goodness me! »

Que de tentations chez Une Gaufrette Saperlipopette, Liège

In 10 months only, « Une gaufrette saperlipopette » has become an attraction in Liège. Truth be told, there was almost no place left in the city where you could sample genuine Liège’s waffles, made with quality and natural ingredients, and freshly baked! Except maybe at your granny’s, if you were lucky… « We wanted to make up for all the mums and grannies who have no time left to cook desserts for their (grand)children », says Eric Michaux, the owner of the place.

Gaufres de Liège, Une Gaufrette Saperlipopette

And this is maybe what drawn us, like many others, to that tiny place with its cute white window shutters and red and white checkered ribbons. When you go inside, before you can even give your order, Bénédicte, Eric’s wife, will offer you a « chouquette ». Always. Like when you pay a visit to Granny and she offers you something delicious and homemade to eat. Like in Iran too, a country where Eric Michaux lived for 3 years (he established a bakery there and came back to Liège afterwards to be with his family again). Today, the chouquette has become the signature of the shop. So much that when you share a picture of their chouquettes on Twitter, people identify them in a few minutes!

Chouquettes, Une Gaufrette Saperlipopette, Liège

Start over on a small scale

More than a product, what makes « Gaufrette, saperlipopette » so unique is the couple who runs the shop. « We have opposite tempers but they complement each other. She runs the shop and I imagine the recipes. When we are together, it’s like magic, everything works. It’s something I grasped when I was alone in Iran, like an evidence: we needed to work together again », explains Eric. It’s maybe what makes saperlipopette so magical!

But this magic is not entirely new to Liège. In fact, before Teheran and before Gaufrette, the couple ran « Question de goût ». « We had 6 bakeries and 45 employees. We worked 24/7. », remembers Eric. Despite its excellent reputation, the establishment went through a rough time, forcing the couple to close.

After 8 years out of the public scene in Liège, the idea of starting over, but on a much smaller scale, caught on. A small commercial ground floor found by luck (or by fate), some transformations that Eric made by himself, a few tables bought at Ikea, old waffle irons and rolling pins found at the local flea market of Saint Pholien and « Une gaufrette saperlipopette » was ready to welcome its first customers.

Toute la marchandise est produite sur place, Une Gaufrette Saper

« We didn’t expect people to remember us », explains Eric. But the customers of « Question de goût » heard about their shop and soon the word of mouth had people coming to sample their products from everywhere: « The Flemish media took interest into our business and suddenly we had customers coming all the way from Antwerp, Gent or Oostend to taste our waffles. We really wanted to keep it small and simple so we thought: ‘We’re gonna sell what we’ve cooked for the day on a first-come-first-served basis, but when people drive all the way from the other side of the country just to buy your products, you can’t just send them away! So we began to produce more and more… »

And that’s how the shop became popular… And their success is still growing by the day: recently a group of Japonese visited from Osaka, accompanied by a food journalist and an interpreter to share the story of « Une gaufrette saperlipopette » in their country. Isn’t that amazing?

Behind the counter

Futures chouquettes, Une Gaufrette Saperlipopette, Liège

On one evening in March, we were waiting at the door of the shop. We were about to interview Eric for this article. Inside, we could see that the light was still on. We assumed it was the cleaning lady…

When he showed up, Eric apologized for being extremely tired. He hadn’t slept for 48 hours but would do his best to answer our questions. « Come with me, I’ll show you why! », he told us opening the door. « This is what the shop looks like after a day of work. » Inside, a student was busy preparing an order for the following day. Without any customer, the shop didn’t look much bigger: the space was still incredibly tiny… « A few hours from now, the cleaning lady will come and put everything into order. She’ll close the door around 11 pm. 2 hours later, I’ll be back to prepare the dough. Around 4 am, I’ll be joined by my assistant, a young man to whom I teach the business. We’ll cook the waffles and prepare everything to be ready to open at 7. That’s what customers don’t see, what they can’t imagine. »

Waouw! We feel a bit ashamed to steal a few hours of sleep from Eric but also very honored he accepted to spend an hour with us sharing his story over a glass of wine… « You’re welcome! » he kept saying with a big smile. But it was clear they didn’t need any publicity. They accepted this interview just because they’re incredibly generous in everything they do and we felt very lucky.

The Saperlipopette family

Madeleines, Une Gaufrette Saperlipopette, Liège

During that precious hour, we talked with Eric about his story: Question de goût, Iran but he also told us about the Saperlipopette family and its touching characters.

When you hear those stories, day-to-day live at Gaufrette Saperlipopette looks like a movie from Jean-Pierre Jeunet (you know the maker of Amélie Poulain ?). There’s a lady dressing like a fairy who comes regularly to the shop with her three kids. There’s Jean-Marie, the homeless guy, who comes every day to receive a pancake and has become a friend, that policeman passionate about cooking who asks technical questions about the preparation of the products. And also the 3 children of Bénédicte and Eric who also work sometimes behind the counter. The youngest is 7 and is in charge of the fruit waffles when she’s there!

« All this is the reason why this project can’t be replicated », explains Eric. « People feel touched about the shop, its philosophy. They feel it’s sincere and made with love. In their bags, they bring back more than just waffles or chouquettes, they carry home a bit of our spirit. »

What’s next?

Une Gaufrette Saperlipopette, Liège

Obviously with such a success the need for a  bigger space becomes pressing. But they’ve found a kitchen to rent, in a basement across the street. « It will become the workshop where we prepare the dough but also elaborate new recipes. I don’t want people to get bored so I want to surprise them with new products! » Among the projects: preparing a genuine old-fashioned puff pastry and prepare the best croissants in the area or giving cooking lessons.

When I pointed out that they were dangerously moving away from the original idea of keeping things small scaled, he smiled: « We can’t resist, it’s just who we are! ». I smiled back because it meant we’d keep spotting lines of food lovers on the little street of Rue des Mineurs for a long time.

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