Story and photos by Michelle Porizkova
Michelle Porizkova is visiting local businesses in Raleigh this semester for the Peace of Downtown feature, sharing their stories in text and images with an eye toward capturing how businesses are faring in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There was a sparkle in Ramy Bahgat’s eyes as he spoke of his waffle stand in Morgan Street Food Hall.
For a person who says he doesn’t like desserts, he surely enjoys making them, and making them perfect.
This is not Bahgat’s first dessert venture. Raleigh Rolls, a hand-rolled ice cream stand inspired by his travels to Southeast Asia, is a fan favorite at the food hall. He opened the stand three years before Big League Waffles.
Once the pandemic hit, Morgan Street Food Hall closed. With the reopening of the food hall, Bahgat noticed his ice cream joint was the only dessert place left in the space.
“We needed more,” said Bahgat. “We cannot be the only dessert place in here, we needed more options for people.”
At this point, Bahgat was trying new waffle recipes in his spare time.
“It is totally different,” Bahgat says. “It’s made out of dough, not batter. We were going to introduce it to the customers at Raleigh Rolls.”
Management told him that if he wanted more dessert places in the hall, he should open another himself, so he did.
He took over the small space in the middle of the hall and opened Big League Waffles. Using local ice cream from a creamery, the waffles are toasted and caramelized and topped with customers’ ice cream of choice.
Unlike regular Belgian waffles you can find elsewhere, the dough (rather than batter) allows the waffles to be thicker, richer and chewier. Rolled with pearl sugar, the waffles have a subtle sweetness, Bahgat says.
Having been open for eight months now, Bahgat says business has been wonderful, both for himself, and the food hall generally.
“Big League is my little exploring baby… I want to keep it in a place where I can keep on experimenting and keep things exciting for the customers…. I can see opening a store that has both the rolls and the waffles – and everything in between. A place with all kinds of ways to eat ice cream,” says Bahgat.
Bahgat himself, however, does not care much for sweets.
“But that’s why our ice cream is perfect, and as are the waffles; everything is just sweet enough,” says Bahgat.
He is originally from Egypt. Having lived in Raleigh since 2007, he loves the energy and people within the city: “The Raleigh community is so welcoming. The people are warm, it’s diverse, and the energy is always exciting. People have common goals here, and that’s why they gather.”
Bahgat has been a part of the restaurant industry his entire life, and enjoys seeing people enjoy the food he creates.
“With a place like the food hall, where everybody is on foot, there’s a lot more places where people can get together and enjoy food together,” he says. “I can see how people are enjoying things, and it’s very satisfying.”
And, with an attitude like that, it is clear to see why people are gathering.