By Andrew Davis published December 1, 2011

What if You Sold Waffles With a Side of Content?

On a recent trip to Pittsburgh, PA., one of our clients introduced us to two intriguing retail experiments on using content creation to drive business at retail locations: The Waffle Shop and the Conflict Kitchen.
What’s interesting about both of these experiments is that they leverage a content-centric approach as the centerpiece of their businesses — it’s not a marketing project or a blog; in fact, the content is one of their products.

Waffling at the Waffle Shop


Nestled on a corner on the east side of Pittsburgh, The Waffle Shop broadcasts a live-streaming talk show with their customers. Sure, they sell Waffles from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. every Friday and Saturday night; but more importantly, they shoot a live talk show in the middle of the restaurant, and the restaurant looks packed!

The Waffle Shop’s editorial calendar includes an “Open Talk,” a show called “CookSpeak,” and a program called “Waffle Wopp.”

Each show has its own format. The Open Talk show invites anyone (and they do mean anyone) to step up to the stage and talk about anything (and they do mean anything) they want. During CookSpeak with Tom Totin, a local Pittsburgh cook, he delivers an “out of the box” culinary commentary. Waffle Wopp is a teen magazine talk show hosted and produced by Pittsburgh teen-agers. Their eclectic guest list, live music, and fun interviews make Waffle Wopp one of The Waffle Shop’s most popular shows.

Watch an excerpt from a Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Bassoonist on the Waffle Shop’s Open Talk:

And here’s a great video produced by the folks from Waffle Wopp:(Embedded Video)

I get the feeling that most people come for the content, not for the waffles. As one Yelp reviewer summarizes: “The interior of the Waffle Shop is irrefutably adorable. The format is irrefutably weird. The food here definitely isn’t bad…”
If you’re in Pittsburgh, the Waffle Shop is hiring.

The Conflict Kitchen: Where cultures collide

I do a lot of research and work in the food space, and while food trucks are all the rage, no one seems to be talking about the Conflict Kitchen, and this surprises me.

Located around the corner from the Waffle Shop, the Conflict Kitchen is a take-out restaurant that only serves cuisine from countries that the United States is in conflict with. The entire restaurant and cuisine changes, depending on the conflict it has chosen at a given time. For example, this month it’s a Venezuelan restaurant called La Cocina Arepas; four months ago, it was Bolani Pazi, an Afghan joint.

Every four months, the restaurant changes it’s theme and uses its food wrappers  to help  educate consumers about the details of the conflict. They have a smart editorial calendar (launching a new pop-up restaurant every four months) and use every aspect of the experience (from the wrapper the food comes in to the signage and menu) to leverage content to help their customers better understand the world. What a noble experiment.

It’s all a giant content-based experiment

Both the Waffle Shop and the Conflict Kitchen are wild, content-based experiments that marry the generation of content with the retail experience. Without the live streaming show, there’s no Waffle Shop. Without a conflict that needs to be understood, there’s no Conflict Kitchen.

Interestingly, there’s an additional layer of context (and content) for these two projects: Both function as real-world classrooms for students from Carnegie Mellon University. It’s an “eatery, a television production studio, a social catalyst, and a business.” So, there’s content behind the content. Professor Jon Rubin at Carnegie Mellon is the mastermind behind this giant content experiment. Rubin says, “The students get to try out their ideas in the real world. The classroom is the real world. Our critics are our customers.” The class, which is offered by the school’s art program, invites students to “create a cultural experience that adds something unique to the city.”

“Within that,” Rubin adds, “there are many learning objectives, like working collaboratively with the community members and learning about the social role of art in society.”

What if you intimately tied your content strategy to your product offering? What would it look like? What would it mean to your business? Try sharing some of your ideas  in our comments section below.

Author: Andrew Davis

Andrew Davis’ 20-year career has taken him from local television to "The Today Show". He's worked for The Muppets in New York and marketed for tiny start-ups as well as Fortune 500 brands. In 2001, Andrew Davis co-founded Tippingpoint Labs, where he changed the way publishers think and how brands market their products. For more than a decade, as Tippingpoint’s chief strategy officer, Andrew rallied his team to change the way content creators think, authentic talent is nurtured, and companies market their products. Today, he’s traveling the globe sharing his insight, experience, stories, and optimistic ideals through his wildly fascinating speaking engagements, guest lectures and workshops. His most recent book, "Brandscaping: Unleashing the Power of Partnerships" hit shelves in September, 2012. Andrew is also an instructor for the Content Marketing Institute Online Training and Certification program. Follow Andrew on Twitter @TPLDrew.

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  • Tea Silvestre

    Very cool! I love hearing about wildly creative business models. Innovation = the unexpected. Does it always work? No. At least not long-term. Once the surprise wears off, you’ve got to have something of real value to keep folks interested. Thanks for sharing this!

    • tpldrew

      Thanks so much for making the comment! You’re right – it doesn’t always work. You do have to have something of value at the end of the day. If the Waffles aren’t good who cares about the show…. but what if the show is so good that it ends up driving revenue from other sources? Just something to ponder. 🙂
      Thanks again!
      – Drew

  • Katie McCaskey

    Drew, I’m so excited to read your article! We’ve been discussing similar projects at George Bowers Grocery… neat to see how other indie retailers are using content. Thanks for sharing!

    • tpldrew

      Thanks so much for reading the article! Send along some of your Bowers Grocery examples – I always love to hear what you’re thinking about!
      – Drew

  • Russell

    Hi Andrew, good stuff as always …

    I bet Conflict Kitchen is hoping like hell we don’t go to war with Iceland. That urine-soaked shark meat is frightening stuff …

    re your question, What if you intimately tied your content marketing strategy to your product offering? My answer is … do you really have a choice! 😉

    Hey, we going to see you in Langley on Jan. 26 / 27? Hope you can make the Retreat.


    • tpldrew

      Thanks for answering the question! 🙂 Iceland would certainly be an interesting pop-up restaurant…

      I agree that brands need to spend more time thinking about the value content can add to almost any experience… in fact it’s intellectual property that might really be valuable if it’s done right.

      I don’t think I can make the 1/26 retreat – as much as I’d love to I’m going to be speaking in Chicago that week.

      If things change I’ll be on a flight out!
      – Drew

  • Russell

    It’s been so long ago, I’d forgotten about this. But, we tried — in 2005, just before YouTube – to get one of our food clients, Mukilteo Coffee, to embrace a “talk show host” like video series called “Counter Culture.”

    You can see the one and only show we did, here (please keep the time frame in mind, re how this plays in the page, the production values, etc.):

    Gary Smith, the proprietor, is such a funny, gregarious character, and we live in a community full of world class artists, explorers, intellectuals, etc. We wanted this to be a series of interviews.

    We also did Coffee related tutorials, how-tos:

    I’ve always that that if we’d been able to persuade this client to stick
    to this, he’d have done for his coffee biz what Gary V did for his wine

    Of course, this is now commonplace, but waaaaaay back in 2005, this was pretty new approach …


  • Morgan Barnhart

    Wow! Now this got me excited! This is what it’s all about! I LOVE to see stuff like this. It’s so awesome when an organization is something MORE than just a place to get waffles or just a place to get shoes or what-have-you. It becomes a true engaging experience for all those who want to be involved. A talk show in the middle of a waffle house?! LET ME IN!

    Fantastic stuff!

    • Marta Why

      why are you getting excited about a business that had to close down?

  • Rskray45

    At last, something new! Great idea. Do you think something similar could be used only online? Its more difficult to engage people online instead of face to face I admit. Everythings about social media these days, but you can’t beat a live event!

  • John Hannah

    I really love these inventive, oddball business concepts! Like another commenter, I do wonder about sustainability – what happens when the surprise wears off? Anyway, thanks for sharing this, it really inspires my own creativity.

  • Winfieldl

    Hi Andrew…that was awesome…great ideas….
    first time to know off and actually listen to the
    Bassoon being played…

  • John Mihalik

    Hi Andrew,

    I’m local in Pittsburgh and love both of these places. I think conflict kitchen is opening downtown soon too. It’s really great to see small businesses “getting it”, especially when they are around the block. Great article.


  • Marta Why

    Yeah, but it closed down, so not so sure this is a great content marketing idea. It’s fun and I like it, but I wouldn’t use a closed down business as an example. It’s kind of sad.