Ithaca, N.Y. — Applefest. Fireworks. Griping about the weather. In a city as diverse as Ithaca, there are a few things that unite everyone.
But Alexis Randall hopes to add another item to the list: Waffles.
Randall, the owner of Waffle Frolic, is poised to unveil an expansion this month that will approximately double the capacity of her downtown eatery.
Since Waffle Frolic opened in 2010 in a narrow, two-story sliver of the Commons, Randall said she’s been surprised by the popularity of the product, and the wide array of customers clambering up and down its staircase.
In fact, she had originally expected big groups of college students to make up nearly all Waffle Frolic customers. But while college students did indeed come, Randall soon saw a much more diverse assortment of Ithacans stepping up to order the Fried Chicken and Waffles, Banana Split Waffle, and even the PB and J Waffle.
“We see moms with babies, lots of tourists, people with specific dietary needs, and senior, senior, seniors,” Randall noted. She said one elderly couple comes in regularly for a date night, ordering waffles and orange juice every time.
“Our product and our store are able to hit so many different markets — I didn’t know that going into it,” she said.
For instance, Randall has found it “easy and affordable” to offer waffle toppings that cater to a wide range of diners’ needs and wishes.
Meat eaters might dig into the Cornbread Waffle, topped with turkey chili, hungry hippies can opt for the Hearty Hemp and Buckwheat offering, and the Nutella-topped Mr. Popular waffle satisfies those with a sweet tooth.
The eatery has also developed gluten-free and vegan options, like dairy-free cheese and ice cream. Other toppings, like the apple and nut butters, are naturally suitable for diners with these restrictions.
Randall said that the restaurant’s growing popularity has kept expansion at the forefront of her mind for months — the current Waffle Frolic space fits about 50 customers, and she became concerned about insufficient capacity.
“We get really packed in here on the weekends, and sometimes make more food than we have seats,” she said, recalling how customers are occasionally left standing uncertainly, waffle in hand and no place to enjoy it.
But until this spring, a desire to remain centrally located in the Commons kept her from moving to a larger building.
So when neighboring Cellphone City closed, Randall decided the time was right to expand. Construction began in April, and she expects to open the new half of the restaurant by late August.
While exact seating capacity has yet to be determined by the fire department, the new space will accommodate about 35 more diners, plus outside seating for up to 20.
The expansion comes alongside other upgrades to help staff manage larger crowds, including another bathroom, a dishwashing machine and a P.A. system.
Randall is particularly excited for the P.A., which she says will improve both the restaurant’s atmosphere and the state of her employees’ vocal cords.
“Instead of hollering your name [when your food is ready], we can calmly announce it over a microphone,” Randall said. “That will be a really nice change for everyone involved.”
Most of all, Randall said she hopes to continue building Waffle Frolic into a community gathering place by hosting arts and social events. The current space hosts a weekly “Irish Jam Session,” and may soon feature more music and even game nights.
But though she wishes to make the space “more of a venue” for Ithaca nightlife, Randall has no plans to pursue a liquor license, focusing instead on keeping Waffle Frolic a “family-friendly” space where local youth, college students and others can come together.
“When high school kids tell their parents, ‘Oh, we’re going to Waffle Frolic,’ we don’t want the parents to think twice,” she said.
While there are no major menu shake-ups planned for the months following expansion, Randall hopes eventually to offer a “more complete breakfast,” with items like hash browns, to more effectively compete with chain restaurants like the Denny’s that will soon open on Elmira Road.
In the meantime, Waffle Frolic’s staff plan to focus on perfecting their current product, building further speed and expertise with their weapon of choice, the waffle iron.
“Simplicity is a winning model,” Randall noted. “My experience with running a restaurant is that a million-and-a-half things will happen that you never anticipated.”