Smashed Waffles closes Raleigh location on Hillsborough Street

The Smashed Waffle Company has closed its Raleigh location on Hillsborough Street. The popular waffle-maker opened the Triangle shop in January of 2018.
The Smashed Waffle Company has closed its Raleigh location on Hillsborough Street. The popular waffle-maker opened the Triangle shop in January of 2018. Pam Varela

The Smashed Waffles is leaving Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, but company officials say the Triangle hasn’t heard the last of the gourmet waffle brand.

The sweet and savory waffle-maker announced its Hillsborough Street location has closed after a year and a half. The news came from a note taped to the shop window, according to a photo posted on Twitter.

“It is with the deepest regret that we have decided to permanently close our Raleigh Smashed Waffles location,” the note reads. “We want to thank our amazing customers for there (sic) business and the fun times everyone provided us.”

Smashed Waffles started in Greenville in late 2016, quickly cultivating a loyal following. Founders Hunter Harrison and Justin Cox expanded to Raleigh, selling waffles out of Pizza La Stella on Fayetteville Street for delivery and brunch.

In September 2017, they announced a permanent Raleigh location. The Hillsborough Street shop opened in January 2018. The Greenville restaurant remains open.

Smashed Waffles is known for inventive takes on the waffle, particularly making them hand-held, about the size of a doughnut. Toppings included sugar and cinnamon, icing and chocolate and sweetened cereal, while savory options played on chicken and waffles and bacon and egg sandwiches.

Ownership change

In May 2018, Harrison and Cox sold the Smashed Waffles brand to Pittsburgh-based McKnight Food Group, the owners said in interviews with The News & Observer. A 2018 Pittsburgh Business Journal story said Jim Rudolph, an investor in Wendy’s and Rita’s Italian Ice, is the now the Smashed Waffles chairman

“The end game, when you open a business, is to have an exit strategy,” Cox said. “It caught on so fast and exploded the way it did, they could take the brand further than we could take it on our own.”

The Raleigh location was owned by Rudy Theale of Pizza La Stella, who is a partner in the Smashed Waffles corporate structure. Theale said the closing of the Smashed Waffles coincided with the end of the NC State school year. Parking, a lack of foot traffic and a more health-conscious generation of college students made Hillsborough Street the wrong location, he said, but he is actively pursuing new spaces in Raleigh or Durham.

“This was a good testing ground for us,” Theale said in an interview. “This collegiate class is a healthier demographic. I don’t think they consider smash waffles as a meal. We do. But if they have limited resources, they’re going to eat three square meals and treats are going to be a treat.”

Theale believes the concept could work better in a more residential area serving families and catering offices and events. He said the decision to close was his and was not coordinated with Cox or Harrison.

In a phone interview, Cox said he and Harrison still want to be in the Raleigh market.

“This brand is still powerful,” he said. “It’s still young and we’re looking to grow it across the country.”

Cox said he and Harrison are interested in opening more Smashed Waffles of their own, but would have to franchise any future locations of the company they founded.

Smashed Waffles saw college students as its customers, opening on across from NC State and offering delivery.

“A lot of people still think waffles are breakfast items,” Harrison told The News & Observer in a 2017 interview. “We hope to change the perspective here.”

In closing the Raleigh location, the owners encouraged fans to make the trek to Greenville if they have a waffle craving.

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Drew Jackson writes about restaurants and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, covering the food scene in the Triangle and North Carolina.