On April 21, 1962, Belgian waffles make their American debut at the Seattle World's Fair. The waffles, which are fluffier and lighter than regular waffles, are served up with strawberries and cream by chef Walter Cleyman at two stands, one of which resembles a small chalet. The tasty treat becomes a huge hit at the fair.
Direct from Belgium
Belgian waffles were first served in 1958 at the Brussels World's Fair. Unlike ordinary waffles, the Belgian Waffles were made with yeast batter instead of pancake batter, giving them a different texture and a slightly tangier taste. The waffles were served with strawberries and cream, with no syrup -- unless by request.
Walter Cleyman, who baked waffles at the Brussels fair, opened two waffle stands at the Seattle fair -- one on the Boulevards of the World, and one near the International Fountain. Cleyman brought his gas-powered waffle irons with him from Belgium, along with his wife and daughter, who helped out at the waffle stands.
Upon his arrival in Seattle, Cleyman was invited to the Olympic Hotel to taste American waffles, which he had never eaten before. After some thoughtful munching, he gave his approval claiming that they tasted very good. But as tasty as the American waffles were, they were no match for his own.
That's a Lot of Waffles
From the day the fair opened on April 21, 1962, Cleyman's waffles became the surprise hit of the fair. People who tried them loved the taste and told everyone they knew how good they were. This word of mouth, aided by numerous mentions in the local newspapers, made Belgian waffles the most popular food concession at the fair. Jack Jarvis, columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, praised the waffles highly in many of his daily articles, and joked about how much weight he probably gained from visiting the stand so often.
From April 21 to October 21, Cleyman sold more than a half-million Belgian Waffles, over 100,000 more than had been served at the Brussels fair. To create the delicacies at the Seattle fair, more than 100,000 eggs were mixed with 50,000 pounds of flour, and topped with more than 100,000 pounds of strawberries. When strawberries became scarce, Cleyman resorted to topping the treats with pineapple, exclaiming "Just as good. Why not? (The Seattle Times, October 18, 1962.)
As the fair drew to a close, waffle junkies began to worry where they would get their waffle fix once the waffle stands went away. Most of them breathed a sigh of relief when Cleyman announced that he had granted a franchise to Smitty's Pancake House in Seattle. J. William Smith -- the Smitty of the Pancake House -- soon opened the Belgian Waffle Chalet in Seattle's University district.
The success of Belgian Waffles continued long after the Seattle World's Fair, and the treat was also quite popular at the New York World's Fair in 1964. There they were called "Bel-Gem Waffles" and were such a huge hit in the Big Apple that many books, websites, newspaper and magazine articles later claimed that the Belgian Waffle originated at the New York fair. They did not, as anyone who enjoyed the delicacy at the Seattle World's Fair can attest.