By Kathy Feist
Women can often have strange cravings during pregnancy. But rarely do the products of those cravings turn into restaurant franchises.
Yet that is the story behind the success of Chick-in Waffle, a popular Westport restaurant that has opened its first franchise at 4800 E. Bannister Rd.
Owner Dennis Alazzeh says it was his pregnant wife Sara Azraq’s constant craving for sweet and savory that got the couple creating daring variations of chicken and waffle recipes. “Her first creation was a spicy chicken sauce that included maple syrup, sriracha and lime juice,” recalls Alazzeh. “I was sold after that. From there on out we started coming up with the craziest sauce creations we could think of.”
Variations on the basic theme now on the restaurant’s menu include Asian Chili, Chick-in Queso, Tikka Masala, KC BBQ and Chick-in Parm, among others.
“The idea for the name Chick-in Waffle was for the chicken to be inside a waffle,” explains Alazzeh. Customers have the option of rolling the chicken and sauce into a waffle, much like a taco, or eating it with a fork and knife.
Chick-in Waffle is also introducing the bubble waffle, known as a Hong Kong egg waffle, to Kansas City consumers. Similar in appearance to bubble wrap, the waffles are soft and spongy, making for a more flexible wrap for fillings. Bubble waffles have become especially popular in ice cream shops lately. Alazzeh and Azraq have their own bubble wrap recipe.
Alazzeh and Azraq had the unique opportunity to move into 431 Westport Rd., the former Jerusalem Cafe. The restaurant was founded by his father 30 years ago. It recently moved to a new location down the road, leaving the old location available for lease. “We decided, ‘You know what? This is a pretty good idea for Westport. Let’s give it a try,’” recalls Alazzeh. “We jumped on it.”
After months of developing recipes including loaded fries, chicken wings, waffle sliders and desserts, the couple opened Chick-in Waffle in January 2020. Joining them was a young south Kansas City native, Raian (pronounced Ryan) Hajmahmoud. Hajmahmoud worked every available job at the restaurant for two and a half years. When Alazzeh decided to take the Chick-in Waffle concept to the franchise level, Hajmahmoud was the first to sign up.
“I love the organization,” says Hajmahmoud. “I love how different it is, especially in the Midwest. There is nothing like it.”
He chose the Bannister location because it is near where he was raised and is surrounded by new development, including the Cerner campus, the future Glade development, and a new hotel being built down the street.
The 24-year-old entrepreneur was able to enlist the help of his mother Manal Alaweh, who has worked in kitchens for the past 20 years, most recently as head cook in the cafeteria at KU Medical Center. Together they pooled their life savings and invested it into the franchise.The building which was formerly occupied by the Filipino restaurant Manila Bay Express was spruced up with new paint, large signage, and eventually new furniture. The location opened November 11 for drive-thru, curbside and delivery.
By all accounts, the Bannister location is doing well. “He’s rolling!” says Alazzeh. Another franchise location is expected in Overland Park and two are planned to open in Houston, Texas.
The owner’s favorite waffle is the Canadian Buffalo made with ranch dressing, parmesan cheese, powdered sugar and a drizzling of maple syrup. A taste test of that concoction was a delight to the senses for this writer. Even with pickles, the combination of maple-soaked soft waffle and spicy, brined Buffalo chicken was surprisingly compatible. (Without the maple syrup, it didn’t work as well.) I ate it all with a fork and knife.
The clever sauce combinations are also served over fries.