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Food Court Wars (copy)

"Food Court Wars" host Tyler Florence poses with Jessica Ullom, co-owner of Cool Scoops, outside her shop at the Three Rivers Mall in Kelso last January.

Waffle eatery owners say they would consider moving back to the Three Rivers Mall if recent new developments significantly increase foot traffic there, but it isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.

“It was a business decision to leave, and it would be a business decision to come back,” lead chef and general manager Mike Susak said this week.

Gaufre Gourmet opened at the mall in April with much fanfare after winning the Food Network’s local “Food Court Wars” last year. It closed in September, leaving the food court with a sole tenant: Cool Scoops.

Mall managers hope that foot traffic increases with recent openings of the new Regal Cinemas 12-plex and Planet Fitness.

Portland-based Gaufre Gourmet (gaufre means “waffle” in French) had out-competed a sandwich shop in a TV contest to win a year of rent-free space at the mall. It generated $3,000 in sales in the first week, Susak said, but foot traffic slowed after the initial excitement. On its slowest day, the eatery only did $35 in business in a 10-hour shift.

Traffic got a boost when Sportsman’s Warehouse first opened in the summer, Susak said, but that didn’t last as most customers starting entering through the parking lot instead of walking through the mall.

Mall hours compounded the problem for Gaufre. The shop had to be open 10 hours a day, seven days a week, so the owners had to hire part-time workers, adding to costs. Additionally, some local customers balked at paying up to $6 for a waffle. But Susak said plain waffles started at $3, and pricing was “in the wheelhouse” of other similar businesses. The specialty Belgian sugar waffles use dough with pearl sugar kneaded into it, rather than batter. Adding toppings such as peanut butter, Nutella hazelnut spread, bananas, balsamic caramel sauce and candied pecans cost extra.

Since moving out of the mall, Susak and his business partner, Charlene Wesler, opened a new restaurant in November in Southwest Portland called Gigi’s Cafe. They also have a food truck on Ninth and Alder avenues in Portland.

Susak said they’re too busy focusing on building up their new restaurant to think about returning to Kelso, but he’s not ruling it out.

“If the traffic patterns were such that we could sustain a business up there, we absolutely would (return),” Susak said. “We really enjoyed the community up there.”

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