Meet Thomas: A Belgian Expat Sharing His Love For Waffles In The USA

15.03.2016 - Dries Tack

Thomas DeGeest from Wafels and Dinges

        Wafels & Dinges is a trendy business dedicated to selling “one-of-a-kind” Belgian waffles throughout New York City. Former IBM consultant, Thomas DeGeest, is the mastermind behind these sweet and savory treats. He started the company in 2007 originally selling its exquisite indulgences out of a food truck to deliver customers a feel for the Belgian culture. “The idea of a kiosk is much closer to how we eat wafels in Belgium, because in Belgium wafels are a street food,” DeGeest said. However, as these waffles became a hit sensation, Wafels & Dinges spread its location throughout the city and now encompasses two trucks, multiple cabanas, carts, and a recently opened flagship café in the East Village. In each of these stores, customers are given a wide-range of choices, fluctuating from their “Chili Con Corne” wafel (topped with chili, cheddar cheese, sour cream and cilantro) to their infamous “de throw down” wafel (topped with spekulous spread, whipped cream and spekulous cookie crumble). These treats have become a favorite in NYC, as it satisfies any individual’s sweet tooth. Check out one of the many locations around the city or use its new delivery services through Grub Hub or Seamless and receive a fulfilling waffle right at your doorstep. 

Get to know Thomas:

Why did you leave Belgium? / Why did you move to the USA?

-       “It was, as in so many stories, a story of love. That combined with the fact that my employer at the time, Andersen Consulting, was gracious enough to allow me a transfer to NYC. It was a great opportunity to move abroad, something I had always wanted to do.”

How does your life look like right now?

-       “Probably too busy to answer this question properly. Life in NYC is incessantly demanding, endlessly challenging, infinitely rewarding, always memorable. You have to be wired to thrive in this environment, and even if you are, you need to make a serious effort to build in breaks to slow down and get away from it all.”

Are Americans and Belgians very different?

-       “Very much I assume. I have lived in the USA for 20 years, so I am hesitant to make outdated or cliché statements about ‘Belgians.’ What I like about Americans is their natural optimism, self-reliance, kindness, and pragmatism. These are qualities I guess Belgians appreciate but don't always exhibit. Americans tend to be rather opportunistic and transitory in their relations with friends and neighbors, whereas Belgians are much more committed and invested in long-term relations. Belgians invest and "expect" more, and therefor they'll ‘judge’ more often. Americans expect nothing and they'll be happy with what they can get, even if it's very superficial." 

How do you connect to Belgium?

-       “I stay in touch with my family by phone and maybe two visits per year. I stay in touch with very select friends. Obviously Facebook is hugely helping in this area. Also love to read crappy sensation newspapers like HLN.”

How do you relax in the USA?

-       “We have a home outside NYC, on Long Island. No better time spend than with my beautiful wife Rossanna and my two boys, Rocco (4) and Camilo (6). I teach them how to gather kindle wood for the fireplace, how to plant flowers, dig for worms...these are things I used to love to do in Bierbeek where I grew up. For ‘me’ time, I love to ride my motorcycle out in the country." 

What's your favorite US meal/treat?

-       “NYC pizza by the slice. Sirloin hamburgers. My very own Brussels wafels from Wafels & Dinges, which people say are the best on this side of the Atlantic.”

What do we have to do to get you back in Belgium?

-       “Let me become Prime Minister. Abolish all social entitlements and start over again. Belgian people are extremely hard workers, they are incredibly well educated, they speak a gazillion languages. Our government and especially the interest groups / unions have created an environment that a priori stifles self-reliance, professional opportunity and aspiration. It is embarrassing to hear from so many entrepreneur friends how they are being demonized instead of being celebrated as job creators. The left in Belgium is clinging onto so many outrageously unrealistic, excessive benefits from the Ice Age, and in the process companies and hard working individuals are getting strangled. It's real shame, and as a Belgian entrepreneur in the US, it's hard to accept there can be so much F@$^@$^g blindness in my native country.”

Which Belgian do you admire most?

-       “I would simply say my very own father. Self made man from a small farmers family in West Flanders, he had incredible work ethic and was a tough but fair leader for those around him, and always looked out for the weaker members of the community. He set a great example for many people, including me.”

Which American do you admire most?

-       “Teddy Roosevelt - an incredible president who defines for me what Republicanism should be. Unfortunately modern day republicans have lost their way, but his view of an activist government that ensures ‘a fair shot for every citizens’ resonates with me: personal responsibility, limited government, leveling the playing field between the little guy and the larger corporations.”

What was your biggest surprise in the USA?

-       “First, Americans have a country filled with natural riches, gorgeous landscapes and nature. Yet it stuns me every day how little respect they have for their own country. Outsize billboard litter the landscapes along the Interstates, they pollute their own waters, they throw trash in the street with no regard; it is simply astonishing sometimes.  That leads me to the second observation: Coming from a place where virtually everyone had a solid education, it’s sad to see how so many people in the US stay behind in such dramatic ways. There remain tremendous social ghettos, and it remains incredibly hard for people to break out of them. It's something you don't expect from a wealthy country like this.”

For more information on Thomas and/or Wafels and Dinges, visit www.wafelsanddinges.com.

 This article is part of our series called “Belgians in the USA.” Belgians in the USA aims at promoting Belgian talent across the globe. It includes a variety of individuals who have gotten the privilege to experience the world and all of its glory when they decided to follow their business-driven aspirations and leave their “beer-loving,” “waffle-making” home country to move to the “land of the free.” Take a look at our other articles to learn about Belgian-based businesses arising in the US and read the inspiring individuals’ stories as they discuss life as an expatriate and what it takes to be a “Belgian in the USA.”

 

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