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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.