The original Funk ‘n Waffles closed its doors for good. Here’s what the last day was like.
Ally Moreo | Photo Editor
UPDATED: Feb. 23, 2017 at 4 p.m.
It’s 8:50 a.m. and Allie McKenna Daut is expertly refilling more than a dozen syrup bottles.
She laughs, and says she will finish the task with minimal stickiness, but by the end of the night the tables will be covered in it.
After one use, syrup clings to outside of the bottle, and lingers on the fingers of the hungry customer. Using a paper napkin to wipe the stickiness away is as futile as wiping the memories of the restaurant away. It’s a restaurant that doubles as a music venue and has served the Hill for 10 years — but served its last waffle at its original location on Wednesday night. Like the syrup, memories will linger after the last waffle is served, and they will linger after the building is torn from its foundation to make way for an eight-story “multi-use” project.
“I have so many good memories here, and I just wanted to come here one last time before it closed forever,” said Audra Linsner, a sophomore advertising major.
It’s a sentiment shared by most of the students that lined up for a last chance to eat there.
Open mic nights, first dates, countless dinners with parents — all of these memories are shared between syrupy bites and talk of the Duke game.
Nineteen steep, cement stairs lead into the basement restaurant. Every step taken is cautious, but hurried.
It’s 9:02 a.m. A small line has formed and the doors open to the first five customers. The last first customers.
“Coming in for your last waffle?” McKenna Daut says with a smile.
The morning crowd is steady, humming with a quiet energy. It’s early on a college campus and a few yawns bounce across the room. The smell of cooked waffle batter fills the space at 9:15 a.m., and doesn’t relent.
“I can’t believe this place will be gone.”
A plastic buzzer goes off with swirl of blue lights and smile bursts on it owner’s face.
“It’s so good.”
Students’ smart phones are thrust into the air to capture the perfect photo of their waffle, and the brightly-colored space.
It’s busier than a normal weekday morning, and by 4 p.m. it’s busier than most weekends. The dishes are stacked high in the bus bins, and the the wait for a waffle reaches almost an hour.
It’s a Wednesday, and that means open mic night. It has meant open mic night for years.
At 7 p.m. the place is bursting at its seams, as more than 50 acts sign up to take the stage.
A man in a faded black and white Funk ‘n Waffles T-shirt lounges in a patterned armchair at the back of the venue soaking it all in. The waffle on turntable graphic is peeling at the edges. The man helped build this place. But about four year ago, Kyle Corea, walked away to pursue film. It was one of the hardest decisions of his life.
It’s the first time he’s been back since leaving, and he’s struggling not to jump behind the counter and work.
Instead, he strolls to the counter and points his camera at the counter. A counter jammed with orders, and films his college best friend, and old business partner, Adam Gold.
“As the night goes on I am feeling more and more emotions,” Corea said. “I am just remembering everything: the good and the bad.”
Ally Moreo | Photo Editor
Corea said they created this place to fill a void. It was for the alternative kid that could be themselves. Looking around the room, he said, “look at it, this what it’s about. It’s so special. They feel that, that’s why they’re here. This is a special night.”
On this night, many of the performers thank the venue for being such a strong part of their lives, and say one last goodbye.
The small stage at the back of the venue has given students a chance to test out comedy routines, sing newly written songs and practice performing in front of a receptive audience for years.
It’s a stage that has hosted the likes of then little-known Vampire Weekend, and funk legend Fred Wesley, the trombonist for James Brown.
And it’s the stage that connects Funk ’N Waffles to its roots.
The Funk ‘n Waffles business took off before its physical location on South Crouse Avenue. It started at house parties featuring owner Adam Gold’s former band, Sweaty Pants, and slowly turned into a waffle empire with Corea manning the iron.
Gold and Corea invested $100 to make about 50 waffles to give away to partygoers. The parties became more and more popular, eventually prompting the best friends to enter in a Whitman School of Management competition that awarded a $25,000 sum to the best student-created business. They didn’t win, but they decided to start a business anyway.
The house parties “reeked of waffles,” said Gold in a 2007 Daily Orange article. “It was a sensational overload.”
That sensational overload smacks every customer as they open the double doors at the bottom of those steep cement steps.
The smell, and the hundreds of fans, overwhelmed popstar Nick Jonas when he stopped in for chicken and waffles before his 2015 New York State Fair performance.
And it’s the waffles that brought Food Network’s Guy Fieri and “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” to the Hill.
Fieri, whose face smiles down on customers as they order, called the breakfast “dynamite” and said Gold’s cooking technique was “gangster.”
The venue has a palpable character. The mixed assortment of furniture, funky artwork and equally funky music give the student-favorite joint a flavor all its own. But the building is falling apart, and drips of water and beer fell on the heads of customers as soon as Hungry Chuck’s opened upstairs for the Duke game.
It used to be the basement of Hungry Charlie’s, and Gold said he can still feel that joy in the walls. Gold is trying to look to the future. He has his hands full with a barely-year-old downtown location, and a new venue set to open in Rochester later this year.
Every fork, plate, and piece for furniture will be used to service the Rochester location. Around midnight, Gold served the last waffle — a Crepe Expectations with added strawberries — and shortly after walked to the door to lock it for the last time.
They have a chance to move into the new retail space, but Gold said he doesn’t have the information to commit to make any type of decision on that. He wants to return to the Hill, but doesn’t know how or when.
“The cool part is, it’s not really closing. We are going to be open a mile down the road, we will be opening in Rochester,” Gold said. “ Funk will live on.”
As customers head up the steep cement stairs for the last time, a faded hand-painted message sends them on their way: “Stay Funky.”
Published on February 23, 2017 at 12:06 am
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