Before venturing into a life of baking, Ugene had been working for multinational companies as part of the technical service helpdesk. Born in Amsterdam, he was fluent in Dutch, German, and English—a sought-after skillset.
Though he was born and raised in the Netherlands, Dutch native Ugene has always had a close connection with Malaysia through his Penang-born father.
His mother, born in Hong Kong, often cooked at home—an activity that captured Ugene’s attention.
“Baking cakes and cupcakes piqued my interest early on too, but I never pursued any formal education in it because there were no real examples or role models that encouraged it from my environment,” he shared. “So, I figured I’ll just do what everybody else does.”
By this, he means studying business and then working out where to go from there.
Eventually, this wound up being in Malaysia, baking treats for a living under the name Verse Stroopwafel.
Finding a purpose in his passion
Undeniably, stroopwafels are a staple of the Netherlands. A stroopwafel is a thin, round waffle cookie made from two layers of sweet baked dough held together by caramel filling.
“One cannot live in Holland without knowing or enjoying Dutch foods, and I am no exception,” he expressed.
Saying that stroopwafels are a staple of the Dutch people, Ugene shared that the treat’s history dates back to the 18th century from the city of Gouda (yes, like the cheese).
Ugene enjoys the treat so much that he would always ask his family to bring back stroopwafels (and cheeses) whenever they visit him.
But when does a simple love for food transform into the desire to start a business? For Ugene, the lines seem to blur.
“I always kept fantasising of one day starting up my own business with Dutch foods,” he said. “I have several tries with multiple Dutch foods, searching online and looking for videos and recipes. But none of the ones I was doing really took off.”
At least, not until he realised he needed to learn the secret of the trade from an expert. Thus, he decided to go back to his native country to learn from a master stroopwafel baker.
“I found the Dutch stroopwafel teacher on Google and made a reservation six months ahead of my journey back to the Netherlands,” he shared.
Six months later, he found himself in a master baker’s car, en route to a remote town in the Netherlands where he would soon learn the secrets of stroopwafel-making.
Mastering the craft
Named Dirk, Ugene’s teacher had 30 years of experience under his belt. According to Ugene, Dirk had already built a small food empire but had to slow down due to his health and age.
“Still, he never really stopped because he loved the joy of helping other businesses succeed,” Ugene explained.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the two bonded quickly. The class was actually only a day long, but Ugene believed it was the best training he could’ve gotten, seeing it as the best investment he’s ever made.
With that said, it still took Ugene a full year before he felt ready and confident to launch his home-based business in March 2019.
A one-man show
Verse Stroopwafel started as a side hustle, but in 2021, he decided to go full-out, leaving his full-time job to focus on growing his own brand.
Although he has some experience in doing retail business, this was his very first venture in the F&B industry. Thus, he was mostly learning as he went. While doing so, Ugene focused on mainly one thing—remaining loyally committed to the art of traditional stroopwafel baking.
Currently, the Verse Stroopwafel team consists wholly of Ugene himself. From production to packaging as well as distribution, Ugene handles it all.
While some may find the charm of his small business appealing, there are other popular stroopwafel brands such as Daelmans that are much more accessible. It would be difficult for a one-man team to compete with a brand as big as that.
“Daelmans Stroopwafels are nice, don’t get me wrong,” Ugene started when asked about it. “But mine are just better.”
He believes this is because his own treats are made from self-sourced premium ingredients and are handmade from scratch “with love and care”.
“It’s like comparing Gardenia brand with bread from your local bakery,” he reasoned. “I can’t explain it better than that.”
Over the years, Verse Stroopwafel has also come to carry quite a variety of flavours, compared to Daelman’s three (caramel, honey, and chocolate). This includes Classic Caramel, Chocolate, Espresso, Pineapple, and Mocha.
There are also two more “premium” flavours, which are Speculaas and Double Espresso.
Speculaas is a special Dutch spice mix that’s traditionally eaten during Christmas or wintertime. According to Ugene, it has a warmth and sweetness to it that isn’t overpowering.
Double Espresso consists of real espresso shot-infused caramel enclosed within a coffee waffle base, thus the idea of “double”.
All these flavours are the result of Ugene’s own preferences, believing that he would only be capable of selling creations he could firmly stand behind.
Flavours aside, Verse Stroopwafel also offers three different sizes of products—King, Classic, and Mini. Customers can also choose different types of packages such as a family box, a birthday gift box, and more.
For the love of stroopwafels
Having visited the Netherlands before, I’ve had my fair share of stroopwafels. I’ve always remembered being told that the Dutch treat was best enjoyed on top of a hot cup of coffee.
Still, I wanted to confirm that with Ugene. However, when I asked the baker about it, he had this to say:
“Marketing would have you believe it’s to place it on top of your hot beverage like coffee, tea, or hot chocolate,” he confirmed. “And why not? Most people do as they’re instructed, as soon it catches on.”
He continued, “But to me, stroopwafels are just eaten the way they are—right from the package as a snack or as an energy bar before and after exercise.”
Take it from Ugene—he’s been running Verse Stroopwafel for over three years now and has been an avid enjoyer of the treat for… well, most of his life.
And it’s really this enjoyment that is the core of Ugene’s business. Before honing this passion of his, the Dutchman had been struggling with the challenge of not knowing what he wanted to do.
“I was 39 years old when I knew that I’m good at doing this and I love what I do,” he shared. “That is the most valuable gift I cherish that I know will always keep on giving.”
When asked about the future of his business, Ugene said, “I like to dream big, but I do not see myself as a commercial failure if I do not achieve financial success like building a sort of Stroopwafel empire in Malaysia from the bottom up.”
Instead, his big dream is mostly to share his love for stroopwafels as how it has been authentically experienced in the Netherlands for hundreds of years past, and perhaps hundreds more to come.
Image Credit: Verse Stroopwafel