Francois Kerckhof traveled to the United States with his wife while she worked on a research project, but the couple quickly fell for the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina and decided to stay a while. When the company Kerckhof worked for closed, he decided to go into the food industry, an area he was passionate about. He had even appeared on a food TV show at home in Belgium.
“The waffles in America are not the same as Belgian ones!” he says, recalling his desire to bring something from his European home to his new home in the States. After a long decision between a storefront and a food truck, Kerckhof decided to start a food-truck business. He even went to New York for training on starting a food-truck business.
In the early stages of Kerckhof’s idea, a friend recommended he talk to SCORE for advice on running a business in the United States.
Since Kerckhof was launching his business after fewer than two years in the United States, he had a lot to learn, from how to run his truck to simply where to park it. SCORE mentor Chris Exton helped Kerckhof develop his business plan and research competition. Exton even joined Kerckhof to vet potential accountants.
While many of Kerckhof’s challenges as a new business owner are common occurrences, Kerckhof also had to navigate immigration details at the same time. When his wife’s research visa expired, he had to apply for his own work visa. Later, after a year and a half using his company name — which he had researched before choosing – Kerckhof received notification that the name was trademarked, so he would have to change it. “I was very stressed, I didn’t know what to do,” Kerckhof says. Exton helped him connect with a lawyer who could resolve the issue.
Not only has Belgian Waffle Crafters secured its place in the competitive food-truck scene; it also went on to open a mall kiosk to serve additional customers. With encouragement from his mentor, Kerckhof entered a small-business grant competition in his county and was awarded $10,000 to put toward his business.”
In addition, Belgian Waffle Crafters now has a trademarked name and logo, thanks to a low-cost program at the University of North Carolina.
Kerckhof recommends SCORE for aspiring small-business owners who may not have connections yet in the industry they’d like to enter. “Be open-minded,” he advises. “They will ask you to bring some homework, to do some research. It all has a purpose.”