It is a rare occurrence when you can experience the birth of a high-end cuisine brand bound for success, and talk to the person who created it. But Pursuitist was fortunate, yet again, to be at the right place and the right time.
The originator of this new product is Meryl Van Der Merwe, a young woman who was born and raised in Cape Town South Africa. For many years she was the executive chef on luxury yachts, traveled the world, creating great meals for the highest end clientele. But as much a Meryl loved to create exotic food, in exotic locales, she still wanted to return home and have a simple South African Jaffle.
A jaffle is a toasted pocket sandwich filled with sweet or savory filling, made in a jaffle iron (a type of closed metal skillet) and placed over heat. The resulting sandwich is a sealed pocket with a melted and cooked center. Chef Meryl wished, and for years, to revive this South African favorite for others, by adding her own ingredient ideas that evolved as she worked as a private chef on yachts and in private homes.
It was the introduction of the jaffle to Kevin Plank, entrepreneurial founder and CEO of Under Armour, that launched Chef Meryl’s Jafflz venture and adventure. Having served as a private chef to the Planks for many years, Chef Meryl had already formed a long-time relationship with the family, who helped to make Jafflz an extension of her already successful Park City Du Monde Gourmet private chef business.
All Jafflz are served with a choice of white, wheat or gluten free bread, and are made fresh from scratch on premises. The menu features the Classic Fast-Breaker Jafflz made with Scrambled Egg, Bacon and Cheddar Cheese, the Shorty Jafflz made with Beef Short Ribs, Caramelized Onions and Cheddar Cheese; the Babootie Jafflz stuffed with South African Lamb Curry; as well as a selection of Vegetarian Jafflz including Vegetarian Curry. Sweet Cravings include the Choco Mono Jafflz made with Nutella & fresh banana; the PB&J Jafflz; and the best-selling Sky High Apple Pie Jafflz.
The Jafflz headquarters and café (the first one is right outside of Park City Utah, on 7180 North Silver Creek Road at the junction of Interstate 80 and US HWY 40. Guests can place their order and watch their jaffles being made by hand through the large chef’s kitchen or quickly grab-and-go from a pre-made selection. The location will also serve as the base for a national expansion of the Jafflz concept and product later this year.
We were fortunate to intervew Chef Meryl face to face, and sample three Jafflz ™ — as we interviewed her.
Pursuitist: The Jaffle iron comes from South Africa — who makes the Jaffle irons?
Chef Meryl: The irons that we used as kids were made in South Africa and we currently have new irons been manufactured back there as well. They can be bought in Outdoor stores on any given day. I believe Amazon sells them, as does the Sur La Table catalogue. So I assume China is manufacturing traditional irons as well.
Pursuitist — One of many joys of Jafflz is you can do so many things with them, filling-wise; a most scalable product. As an executive private chef, have you ever thought of doing a cookbook?
Chef Meryl: Yes- from the earliest conception we saw this as part of the marketing model as well as a dream of mine since I was a kid. We will be offering assortments of filling recipes, easy enough for child to prepare to the ambitious foodie and everything in between.
Pursuitist: Also, as an executive chef, what other fillings have you considered but not yet used?
Pursuitist: Crab cakes with Hollandaise for the West Coast folks, also lobster. More Asian freestyle flavors for the Pacific Northwest. The challenge is narrowing down the menu but still keeping the tastes diverse and balanced— we want people to think of Jafflz, knowing they can select from Breakfast all day, or sweet, or savory – from tastes globally inspired to classic. I am working on adding a new vegetarian for the classic side of the menu which will be similar to a Ratatouille with some greens and Provolone cheese.
Pursuitist: It would be good to know the timeline of your brand creation: When did you start buying the Jaffles irons and making Jafflz’s commercially?
Chef Meryl: NOT that long ago! My first 50 irons I bought last May during a visit to South Africa. We spent last summer testing the product and serving Jafflz at the Park City Silly Sunday market from June to September. We signed our deal with Kevin Plank in October and officially launched the brand during Sundance 2015. Our doors opened Valentines 2015. So we are, well right now maybe three months old.
Pursuitist: What is the name of your next Jafflz outlet in Park City? Where is it, and when might it open?
Chef Meryl: Our second location will be open May 1st in The Market Park City as a Jafflz Express. We are looking to open multiple Express locations over the summer 2015- Our Main Street Location opening dates will depend on the development of our wholesale market in Year 1. No later than winter 2016/2017.
We are in the process of working on our USDA inspection that will allow us to sell wholesale. We are also working on selling Frozen Jafflz online nationwide as well as opening in multiple locations. The locations will either be a Jafflz- Café — where the customer can experience watching them being made and toasted – or the Express version for the high traffic Grab & Go customer in airports, train stations and sporting arenas.
Timelines include the next 6 months saturating the Park City market followed by the Salt Lake City market. Our first out-of-state launch will most likely be in San Francisco followed by Las Vegas and Arizona. The national rollout will be in 2-5 years followed by a global roll out starting in Cape Town, Waterfront.
Pursuitist: You did mention your philanthropic and nurturing hope for Jafflz, and how this related to your growing up a white female in Capetown. This is a wonderful dimension, is there anything else you would like to add?
Chef Meryl: By growing up in South Africa during 1980’s and 90’s I was in the middle of Apartheid and old enough to understand and experience the change. I graduated high school in 1994 the same year Nelson Mandela was released. I really feel privilege to have been old enough to experience that HUGE chapter. I really believe growing up in Africa and experiencing extreme poverty around a white middle class family, followed by 15-20 year career of extreme wealth while working in the high end private chef industry, had to mean something.
So I embarked on a journey, trying to put these divergent pieces together. The result has been so inspiring and exciting– Jafflz is the train ride to get us there. Now that the train has left the station, I realize our journey is just beginning and am excited to experience each station along the way, as we reach our final destination. I have ideas of what that looks like and how we can contribute to filling bellies — but the true Jafflz Legacy is yet to be written.
Food connects us all and nourishes us both for survival, but it is also the vehicle that creates emotions, memories, and friends. Our Jafflz offers many opportunities to all nationalities to re-visit nostalgic foods and flavors of childhood and adulthood, to remember, and to nurture others with grace and optimism.