Alexis Norwitz started her own food truck, The Waffle Wagon, when she was just 17 years old. (Photo courtesy of Nikko Mamallo)

By Maria Pou | Staff Writer

For most young people, a gap year is an opportunity to travel, spend time with friends and family, or work a 9 to 5. For one student, it was a chance to have her dream job. 

Bubble waffles are a popular Chinese street dish that can be sweet or savory. (Photo courtesy of Alexis Norwitz)

Alexis Norwitz, who is 20 years old, has owned and operated her own food truck, The Waffle Wagon, since December 2020. The business specializes in soft-serve ice cream and bubble waffles. A bubble waffle, or Hong Kong waffle as it is commonly called, looks like a traditional waffle except it has fluffy “bubbles” on the inside. It is usually curled into a cup and filled with ice cream or other fillings. Though Norwitz started the truck in Seattle, her hometown, she has moved it to O’ahu, where she attends UH Mānoa.

Norwitz believes that being young is an advantage in the business world.

“It gives me a leg up with future business ventures. I won’t be going in blindly like many adults,” she said. “I’ll have real experience to go off of when opening the businesses I want to run when I’m older.”

Ever since childhood, Norwitz has known that she wanted to run a business.

“The biggest inspiration was my dad,” Norwitz said. “I grew up watching him open a bunch of businesses and fail at some of them, and some took off.”

Norwitz’s father, Grant, is a self-proclaimed “serial entrepreneur.” He has started several businesses ranging from indoor skydiving to biltong production (biltong is an air-cured steak popular in South Africa) and has been a source of constant encouragement and support for his daughter.

Because Norwitz was so sure that she wanted to be an entrepreneur, she decided to study one of the top business languages in the world: Chinese. She took courses in Mandarin throughout high school and even spent three months in China to improve her proficiency with the language. Chinese cuisine inspired her, and it was there that she tried her first bubble waffle.

The idea of starting a food truck came to Norwitz during her senior year of high school. It was 2020, and at the time she was in Georgia, training to run track for the Junior Olympics. With the Covid-19 pandemic well underway, colleges were moving completely online. Because of this, Norwitz decided that she would take a gap year to start her business and save money for college.

“If you fail, you just learn and grow another big business,” Alexis Norwitz said. (Photo courtesy of Nikko Mamallo)

First, to fund her startup Norwitz reached out to local Seattle entrepreneurs, connections she had made through her father. Though these connections gave her a head start, the process was far from linear.

“I had to talk to a lot of people and make deals (to secure investments),” she said. “None of them took me seriously because I was so young. It got really frustrating.”

However, her dedication and determination paid off. After securing a group of investors, she was finally able to open her food truck in Seattle in December 2020. Starting a business during Covid presented unique challenges, but Norwitz found that it actually benefited her in the long run by forcing her to get creative. She decided to bring her business to the customers by offering catering at private house parties. It is tough decisions like these that make Norwitz enjoy owning her own business.

“I love that I have creative liberty with my own business. I have a new challenge every day,” she said.

By the spring of 2021, Norwitz had made a sizable profit and paid her investors back, so she decided that she was ready to expand The Waffle Wagon to Hawai’i. 

Though Norwitz enjoys life as a business owner, she has had to make significant sacrifices to get where she is today.

“Really, I have mixed emotions about being young and in business. I love that I get to do what I’ve dreamt of my whole life,” she said, “but also sometimes I feel like that because of the amount of work, I’m missing out on other stuff my friends are doing. Overall though I definitely don’t regret it, and I am so glad I did this.

Norwitz is very excited about opening the second location at Skydive Hawai’i in Waialua, where she holds a part-time job. 

“I think it will bring in a lot of profit,” Norwitz said. “When I’m working [at Skydive Hawai’i] I get a lot of people asking me if there’s food down there.”

Norwitz is hoping to have a soft opening for The Waffle Wagon Hawai’i @thewafflewagonhi by the end of this month. To help her make that happen, you can donate to the project here.

She has offered some advice for aspiring entrepreneurs:

  • Be willing to fail. “From my dad I kinda got like, if you fail, you just learn and grow another big business,” she said with a laugh. “He made me less scared to fail, I think, and more inclined to just go for it.” 
  • Understand that starting a business can be incredibly difficult. “You need to really want it or else you’re going to crash.”
  • Be patient.I wish I worked backward,” Norwitz stated, “I kind of jumped the gun a little bit and got really excited. I didn’t look into the fine print until I was [already] in it.” This created much more work for her after she opened.
  • Realize that being young shouldn’t stop you from trying. “If you’re young, don’t listen to the people who don’t believe in you,” she said.