Forty. That's the number of jobs Rashawn Shivers has worked in his life. He started off at McDonald's, then Burger King and Pizza Hut. He graduated fast food for skilled trades, going to cosmetology school as a barber, and even the seminary to spread the good word. And he hasn't limited himself to working for other people; he's started and sold several of his own companies. Racking up this many job descriptions takes an awful lot of Mondays. But for Shivers, it's all in a day's work.
"I'm good at startups; I'm a beast with starting a business," the amicable 27-year-old says. "We had a maid service I sold that was very successful, and a courier service with vans that had contracts with Fed-Ex. I just have an entrepreneurial spirit; I love to research markets to see what's going to hit."
This time, he's betting on chicken and waffles, the perfect pairing of breakfast and dinner born on the Coasts that has made inroads into the South over the last 10 or so years. Shivers researched the game, studying the business models behind the biggest names in chicken and waffles and sampling fare from Roscoe's in L.A. to Dame's Chicken and Waffles in Durham and Gladys Knight's in Atlanta. Of course, he checked out Charlotte-area restaurants that offer the treat, too. Iin doing so, he discovered that no one in the Queen City had really branded the dish.
This past summer, he launched his food truck, Wafflez and Wingz. It took off so sharply that he quit his job at the Mecklenburg County Jail, just a year short of being fully invested for a pension, to concentrate on his food truck business full time. Shivers is one of those people whose brains don't seem to let them rest. Energetic, personable and palpably ambitious, he says his concept fills a void in Charlotte's culinary scene.
"You can get chicken and waffles at Midnight Diner or some other places, but that's not really what they're known for. I really want to be the name for chicken and waffles in Charlotte, and eventually branch out all over South."
Shivers researched the overhead of a traditional eatery. Unlike many traditional soul food restaurants, he wanted a place with ambiance, and located in a late-night, high-foot traffic area like NoDa. But after weighing the initial cash lay-out, he put $20,000 into a food truck instead. This way, he could have a presence at all the best locations in town — at least temporarily. The marketing plan kicked off on Twitter a full year before launching.
"I blew up Twitter like a motherfreaker. Before I even got my truck out, I was like, 'Wafflez and Wingz coming soon,' and people were following like crazy," he says.
Shivers' base of operations is a bright, full-sized trailer emblazoned with his distinctive logo, a cartoon chicken with the body of a waffle. He enters orders on his iPad and closes transactions with a real-life cash register and wireless receipt printer — small but impactful touches that show this isn't a fly-by-night operation. He tweets locations several times a week, from Innovation Park at lunchtime on Mondays, Sleepy Poets Antique Mall Friday nights, Triple C Brewing and at Food Truck Fridays in South End, too. With 40 regular participants in Food Truck Fridays, they have to rotate, but Shivers is there at least once a month.
He distinguishes Wafflez and Wingz from the competition by putting waffles first, and not in name only. "Everybody likes different kinds of chicken. You can get good chicken anywhere," he says, though his is above par, fried crispy with cholesterol-free canola oil. But he noticed that all of the chicken and waffles purveyors were using the same, plain waffle. Shivers decided to shake up the flavor profile. Aside from the classic, whose Belgium-based batter is only moderately sweet, the waffles are like highly addictive desserts: maple bacon, which really needs no further description, sweet potato, red velvet with cream cheese and more. He even tested a gluten-free waffle that didn't make the menu — "Yuck, oh my God," says his wife, Ebony, wincing.
She and Shivers exhibit a lot of good-natured teasing and affection in their four-year marriage. They met on the social website Black Planet while Ebony was attending North Carolina Central in Durham. While Shivers takes care of the cooking, marketing and location scouting, Ebony handles the money, and happily does register duty when she's not on her day job. She has continued working at the county lock-up — it's hard to imagine the sweet-voiced young woman as a jail guard.
Shivers is self-educated, with no formal business or culinary training, but the books lining his living room walls attest to a thorough, curious mind. Mixed in with the scores of marketing and business books are a number of Think and Grow Rich-type tomes. Reallionaire, by Farrah Gray, an African-American teenager who rose from public assistance to becoming a million-dollar business mogul, is his latest obsession. But Shivers can't quite claim a similar legacy. Despite "barely graduating high school," a situation he blames on focusing too much on girls and basketball, Shivers comes from a tradition of business ownership.
His grandfather owned a successful cab service and a liquor store in Washington, D.C., and would throw big parties and social nights. His example impressed Shivers as a child. "My granddad was a hustler," Shivers acknowledges, "and I was his favorite. I inherited that hunger."
That hunger is apparent when Shivers talks about his goals. He soaks up information everywhere, including when he worked at the county jail. "I learned a lot from inmates. You get a lot of con artists that come through there. The best thing I learned about was business credit. A personal credit line will never be higher than a business'. That's why I love Donald Trump, [Robert] Kiyosaki, all the guys that teach you finances. It's easy steps. Some people don't like researching, but I can sit in front of a computer all day long."
So he says, but that's highly doubtful. Not with the delicious demands of Job No. 41 pulling him away.
Follow Wafflez and Wingz on Twitter
@WafflezandWingz to keep up with their changing locations, and to get a sweet potato waffle in your mouth, stat.