Browsing through the Athens Farmers Market, one might stumble upon a white pickup truck pulling a small, white trailer embellished with stickers. Painted in teal on its sides are the words “Love is served” and “my beloved.” Inside sits Joe Nedza, the 27-year-old entrepreneur at the head of Nedza’s Waffles. The trailer, dubbed Li’l Sebastian, is easily recognizable and has become a well-known staple in Athens’ food community. Now, after five years of business, he has secured his first storefront.
Nedza specializes in sweet things — puffy egg waffles stuffed with ice cream and cookie dough and covered in sprinkles, flavored syrups, powdered sugar or crumbled Oreos. He makes both traditional and seasonally-flavored doughnuts, too, including those of the vegan and gluten-free varieties.
The idea of Nedza’s waffle company came to fruition after he found himself waiting in line for a similar type of treat in New York City in 2015, a year before he graduated from the University of Georgia. When he approached the counter, the shop sold out. He then decided to bring the same bubble waffle dessert concept back to Athens.
Nedza has been involved in the restaurant business for almost half of his life. He began working as a waiter at 15 and grew up in a family full of entrepreneurs. The allure of working for himself was big in the decision to open Nedza’s.
“I don’t like being told what to do,” Nedza said. “I can learn something, I can be my own boss, I can make my own money and be in charge.”
Nedza had many ideas, but the donut and waffle business was one that was simply cheap to start. With just $200, Nedza’s was born.
After miles and miles driven to county fairs, Greek events and farmers markets, Nedza will open its first brick-and-mortar store. After plans to open up a space in Watkinsville in summer 2019 fell through, Nedza bounced back. He plans to sign a lease for the former Your Pie location on South Lumpkin Street during the week of Feb. 17. The targeted opening date is in April, and he aims to expand the menu to more savory options.
“I love food. I love high quality,” Nedza said. “Even if it’s not high-quality products, taking average quality ingredients and making a high-quality product is beautiful to me.”
At the beginning of Nedza’s journey in the fall of 2016, Nedza arranged deals with local businesses like Zombie Coffee and Donuts, Fuzzy’s Taco Shop and Creature Comforts Brewing Company to use their spaces as temporary pop-up locations to sell its food, which then consisted only of ice cream and cookie dough-stuffed waffles, and to spread word about the new enterprise.
With the simple set up of a tent, a few waffle irons and all the waffle trimmings, Nedza’s was on track to becoming an independent small business.
Nedza’s also started making appearances at the Athens Farmers Market on Saturdays, where the aforementioned Li’l Sebastian began its rise to fame.
Li’l Sebastian was not the business’s first trailer. Nedza first purchased an 18-foot tall, 11,000-pound trailer and a pickup truck to pull it with. The truck experienced mechanical problems, causing Nedza to purchase a new generator for it, as well.
“What looks like $15,000 turns out to be about $40,000,” Nedza said. “And I’m like, ‘This is not worth my time.’”
A much smaller trailer was available for around $2,000, so Nedza jumped at the opportunity and bought it. He’s happy with it — the trailer has everything he needs, and he “can drive that thing like a machine.”
Nedza’s wife, Madison Nedza, came up with the name of the trailer. The two love the television show “Parks & Recreation” and named the trailer “Li’l Sebastian” after the miniature horse of the same name. Nedza customized the trailer by decorating it with stickers — from bumper stickers with the Athens Farmers Market logo and UGA student organizations to national park decals.
“I’m a sentimental person and I love stickers that matter to someone,” Nedza said. “I want you to feel like you own your part of this [company].”
A trademark of the Nedza’s brand is the personalized message written on the container of each waffle and donut sold. Each customer is addressed by name and given a compliment to brighten their day, like “You light up any room you enter!” or “Your eyes shine brighter than the sun!”
“Verbal affirmation is my love language. I love telling people what I love about them,” Nedza said.
A business growing this rapidly cannot be operated by one man entirely. Nedza often recruits his wife, Madison, and other friends willing to help him out during busy event shifts. Elijah Johnston, a junior journalism major at UGA, met Nedza through a mutual friend and now works for the business.
“My favorite thing about working with Joe is you always know where you stand with him,” Johnston said. “He’s got so many great and unique ideas and such a big heart for everyone.”
Madison Nedza, who previously served as the company’s director of operations and worked with Joe for two years, admires the way Joe has built his brand on “loving people.” She loves the way the town has rallied around the brand and finds it “crazy to watch” its rise to success.
In the short-term, Nedza aims to successfully open and expand the menu to biscuit offerings, but he has big plans for the company and has no intentions of slowing down or stopping any time soon.
He’s mapped out where he sees Nedza’s in the coming years and the goals he aspires to meet along the way. In five years, he hopes to own four or five well-operating stores and stimulate overall growth. In ten years, he imagines 20-30 stores running smoothly. He also pictures still being at the helm of the business.
Nedza said his dream is to travel, meet new people and learn more about life. However, he’s not receptive to the idea of handing the business over to someone else in order to do so.
“This is my baby,” Nedza said. “The idea of giving that to someone else, like I wouldn’t trust another parent to raise my kid.”
As for the business itself, he wants to generate a reach that’s as large as possible. He also hopes to start a nonprofit sometime.
“I don’t know exactly how we’re gonna frame it yet, but it’s gonna be so huge and impactful for people, and that’s what I care about,” Nedza said of the planned nonprofit. “I built this [brand] and I love it. I will do anything it takes to make it survive.”