We don't need to "waffle" about waffles — we love them! So much that the U.S. even has a national Waffle Day proclaimed on August 24. This was established to commemorate the anniversary of the first waffle iron patent.
And yes, this is important for waffle-lovers everywhere that relish the perfect butter and syrup catching breakfast treat (so much more practical then the pancake) or crave the Southern classic of chicken and waffles...but the first waffle iron is even more significant in TrackTown USA.
You ask why is that? Why do the residents of Eugene-Springfield care so much about waffle irons? Well, let me tell you a story...
Once there was a dedicated, passionate track coach and former Olympian named Bill Bowerman. He was coaching the University of Oregon track team which included legendary talent like Steve Prefontaine, famed for winning every collegiate race he ran, and Phil Knight, who later headed up Nike — thanks to Bowerman, as we will learn here.
Coach Bowerman was fascinated by the science and engineering that went into running. He was always searching for better materials and better designs to enhance athletic performance including experimenting with track surfaces (he even had a special rubber track laid at Pleasant Hill High School) and trying out innovative running shoe designs.
One day while considering the grip, cushion and weight of a shoe sole, he spied the kitchen waffle iron. The waffle pattern provided a lighter shoe base with all its air pockets. He fashioned some running shoes with "waffle treads" and tried them out on his runners, getting good results. Eventually, the story goes, his wife put an end to production in the kitchen and so he set up shop in a Booth Kelley warehouse in Springfield to produce and perfect lightweight running shoes at a greater capacity on a customizable press.
At this time he also partnered with Phil Knight to sell the shoes out of the back of his car at track meets, and then Knight went on to sell them internationally, and this was the beginning of a fledging shoe company that evolved into Nike. All because of a waffle iron!
Memorializing the Waffle Iron
Nike headquarters is now in possession of the original waffle iron but tributes to the waffle pattern have been used in Nike shoe displays at their stores. At Hayward Hall, adjacent Hayward Field, you can also see a re-creation of Bill Bowerman's original workshop where he experimented with waffle soles. This interactive display pays tribute to the waffle iron design along the walls, and his workbench houses a waffle iron, a scale, wooden shoe forms and other tools he employed.
The Graduate hotel in downtown Eugene, known for local collegiate theme embracing academics and sports, has also incorporated waffle irons into their decor from wall texture to waffle iron lamps in the hotel rooms. They also have an extensive shoe collection enshrined around their front desk, so you can see some early Nike shoe designs.
Celebrating the Waffle
So in honor of National Waffle day and the local waffle iron legacy — and as a great excuse to enjoy yourself — plan a meal out for some waffles. These local eateries elevate the waffle to fan-favorite heights and should be top of your waffle-seeking list.
Jazzy Ladies Cafe & Coffeehouse
Jazzy Ladies is a Southern-style, locally-sourced, and gluten-free-dedicated cafe that is known for their waffles — particularly their "Chicken & Waffles". Yep, you can enjoy a gluten-free and dairy-free Belgian waffle with two crispy gluten-free chicken tenders and maple bacon crumbles.
Jazzy Ladies also knows how to throw fun theme nights and mix up great cocktails. The charming coffeehouse is cozy with four-tops in the windows, a bar, and sidewalk seating, but during pandemic protocols there is also delivery and "to-go" for everything from waffles to cocktail-kits.
Elk Horn Brewery
Another southern-style gastropub, Elk Horn Brewery highlights its to-die-for Southern fried chicken and waffles as a signature Southern staple on the menu. Nothing gluten-free about it, this is a battered chicken breast atop rosemary waffles and bacon, served with a maple syrup cream sauce, pickled bourbon jalapeños and spring salad. Pair this decadent meal with one of Elk Horn's craft beers, ciders or craft cocktails. Dine in, on the patio or take it go.
South Hills Cafe
This tiny cafe has an extensive breakfast and lunch menu, but waffles are on it, and if you are craving a good old-fashioned waffle smothered in fresh fruit, this is the place. Topped off with syrup and whipped cream, your morning just got brighter! South Hills Cafe also serves take out.
I Scream For Waffles
And of course there is waffles with ice cream...waffle cones, waffle sandwiches, waffle fries, breakfast waffles and street waffles...this food truck serves if all if it involves a waffle! I Scream For Waffles is sometimes spotted at 7th & Taylor St, Oakshire Brewing and Heritage Distilling, but check their website for current locations and hours of operation.
Off The Waffle
In two locations, one in South Eugene and one in downtown Eugene, Off the Waffle is a local waffle house, family owned and managed, that built a restaurant all around the waffle. They specialize in "Liege waffles", which are a sweet Belgian waffle that has a slightly crispy sugary crust. Being inventive, the Off the Waffle folks took it further, topping the waffles with eggs, bacon, goat cheese, fresh greens and more variations so you can have your whole meal on top of the waffle!
They are only open for breakfast and lunch, but you can also pick up bags of frozen waffles to go. Wow guests at your home with a delicious and easy to make (just heat up and top-off) waffle breakfast. Most of their ingredients are locally-sourced and organic. Gluten-free waffles are available.
And yes, while Nike perfected the waffle-soled running shoe... Off the Waffle perfected the delicious, eatable waffle, and started building custom waffle irons just for cooking. Nike then commissioned from them a special waffle iron constructed in the shape of — yes, a shoe! It all comes back around.