GRAND FORKS — Don Miller’s recipe for successful waffle making is in the mix.
Dakota Don’s Artisan Waffles mix, that is.
Miller, a retired University of North Dakota art and design professor, is marketing his signature waffles in the form of a 1-pound bag of dry ingredients to which buyers add liquids. The recipe for the waffle mix is one that Miller has used for more than a quarter century at a variety of events he has hosted.
“This has been the centerpiece for all of our family gatherings,” Miller said.
While years of tweaking waffle recipes and taste-testing the results went into the development of the mix Miller sells, it’s simple to make waffles from it. Dakota Don’s Artisan Waffles can be stirred up in 5 minutes in a single mixing bowl, by adding an egg, oil and buttermilk, he said.
"The idea is that people who don’t cook can make waffles,” Miller said.
The mix, which he and his wife, Deb Glennen, make and package at O' for Heaven’s Cakes N' More in Grand Forks, is a kind of compromise to the requests that Miller has had over the years to open a waffle restaurant — and his reluctance to do that.
“I’ve been making this waffle mix for more than 25 years. Inevitably, someone would say ‘This is so good, you ought to start a restaurant,'" Miller said. For many years, he deflected the requests by giving his family and friends his recipe so they could make the waffles. Then he took it a step further after retirement and began working to perfect a ready-to-prepare mix, made from North Dakota ingredients, that he could market.
Miller believes his waffle mix has an edge over other mixes because it is specifically designed to be baked on a waffle iron.
“What makes my waffles really successful is that they’re light and airy,” he said.
With the advice of mentors from the U.S. Small Business Administration SCORE organization, and a small grant from the North Dakota Department of Commerce Innovate North Dakota program, Miller created a business plan for the mix.
As part of the plan, Miller sent out a sample of mix to potential customers and asked them to bake it on their irons so he could determine if the type they used would affect the taste and texture of the waffles. It didn’t.
“High praise has convinced me that my waffles are what you didn’t know you had always really wanted in a waffle,” Miller said.
Another part of the business plan was to research the availability of commercial kitchens in Grand Forks. While doing that, he got an offer from O' for Heaven's Cakes N' More owner Cheri Randel to make the mix at her bakery in the Grand Cities Mall on days it was closed.
Miller and Glennen use the bakery’s commercial mixer to blend the waffle mix, which they make in 50-pound batches. After they finish making a batch, they take a sample home and make waffles to ensure it meets their standards. Then they package it in 1-pound bags.
“We eat a lot of waffles,” Glennen said with a laugh. “They taste good, even without anything on them.”
In January 2021, Miller launched sales of Dakota Don’s Artisan Waffle mix. The name suits both the mix and its developer, Glennen said.
“It’s a gourmet product and Don has a super art background,” she said.
Intentionally, Miller is gearing up slowly and, so far, he has 1-pound bags of Dakota Don’s Artisan Waffles for sale at five locations in Grand Forks. Meanwhile, he and Glennen host events at Grand Forks businesses, offering waffle samples and selling the mix, which makes 30 to 35 4-inch waffles.
Eventually, Miller would like to create a line of waffle mixes that include whole wheat and gluten-free ingredients and to hire employees with developmental disabilities. He also hopes to eventually donate a portion of the mix sales to nonprofit organizations.
“Deb and I are really about community; how can we, as individuals, make a difference?” he said.