There are a lot of amazing ways to spend your Saturdays, but it should always begin with a waffle. A fully loaded Belgian waffle is preferred. The best of them can be found at the Saturday Morning Market in St. Petersburg at Sylvia’s Belgian Waffles.
Sylvia Viens, 50, has been a vendor at the Saturday Morning Market since 2007. Her Belgian waffles are made using a 400-year-old recipe. The secret ingredient, she divulges, is a special Belgian sugar. The sugar is the only ingredient that cannot be found in the states. “Whenever family or friends come to visit they must bring the sugar or they go to hotel,” Sylvia joked.
She moved to the United States from Belgium in 2004 with her husband, Jonathan and daughter, Charylene. Their first home was in Massachusetts where Sylvia worked as a secretary and only made her waffles for family.
Their next destination, Clearwater, Fla., suited her much better. “The weather was so nice that I told my husband I could not work inside,” she said.
Sylvia began making waffles for a friend who was a property manager. She was so impressed that she had Sylvia make waffles for her staff. The compliments just kept coming, but Sylvia had never considered making her waffles into a business. Her husband thought differently.
On Christmas in 2007, her husband surprised her. He had bought her everything she needed for a business, Sylvia’s Waffles. She has been working markets ever since. Sylvia does as many local markets as she can. You can find her waffles in St. Petersburg, Gulfport, and Hyde Park. Starting this November, she will also be at Dunedin and Westchase’s markets.
She looks forward to each market. “It becomes like a family. When my customers don’t come, I worry. I ask that next time, they call so I know there hasn’t been an accident,” she said.
Sylvia has enjoyed her time at the market with much success, but said it started with luck. “I called and there was no one else selling waffles, if there had been, I probably wouldn’t be here,” she said.
She warns that the working a market is hard and often is vulnerable to outside influences. For example, she says that one of the hardest obstacles she has dealt with is the weather. Poor weather means no customers.
“One time, I was chatting with a neighboring vendor and noticed that people had begun packing up. I asked why they were leaving, the market didn’t close for another hour or so. It looked so sunny, but then I turned around and it was all black,” she said. As she began to pack up, the rain began to pour. It started weighing down the roof of her tent and it collapsed. “I learned from that, check the weather multiple times!” she laughed.
Sylvia typically runs her tent by herself, so she doesn’t have time during the market to chat with the other vendors. Her set up takes about 40 minutes, but she gets to the market at 6:30 in the morning to have time with her fellow vendors.
“Lots of people think we make a lot money, but that’s just not the case. To do this, you have to really enjoy it. Many have other jobs, but doing markets is really like a full-time job,” she said. “However, I am constantly with people and out in the fresh air and it’s really great,” she smiled.
You can try one of Sylvia’s beloved waffles at the Saturday Morning Market from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 230 First St. N.E.