Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Schenectady's Waffle Man

George W. Sauerborn stands beside his iconic waffle wagon, ca. 1930. From Larry Hart Collection.

From around 1911 until 1935, children gathered in Schenectady's neighborhoods to chase down a horse-drawn wagon selling "cream waffles." These confections were, according to reminiscences published in the Union-Star, "light as a feather" and distinctively flavored with a hint of nutmeg. Larry Hart, in his Schenectady Gazette newspaper column "Tales of Old Dorp," wrote: "From what we hear, the waffle man must have been something like a Pied Piper, the way youngsters ran after his wagon and the magic delicacies. There were usually a dozen or so children eagerly awaiting service when the horse finally was halted. They were eager to be handed the tantalizing delicacy that was done to a turn on gas burners inside the wagon, waffles that were crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside, and generously sprinkled with sugar."

George Sauerborn, standing at right, with a group of local children excited to taste his "cream waffles." From Larry Hart Collection.

The waffle wagon was operated by George W. Sauerborn of 321 Hulett Street. Sauerborn also peddled fish by wagon in Schenectady's neighborhoods; he sold fish from Wednesday through Saturday and sold freshly-made waffles on Mondays and Tuesdays. He had two separate wagons for each enterprise, each being stored in a barn on his property. He started in the fish-peddling business first, near the turn of the century, as he worked for his father's market. Around 1911, Sauerborn began selling waffles. He continued until about 1935. Sauerborn continued selling fish until 1947, when he retired.

Larry Hart wrote that a local reader called him and shared recollections of Sauerborn's "sing-song" voice that "carried like an opera singer" as he called out "Waffles baked here . . . a penny apiece here!" Local people also recalled Sauerborn's call of "Fish today!" that rang throughout city neighborhoods, particularly on Fridays.

Sauerborn relied on his voice for the most part to advertise his waffles, but using a brass gong similar to the one used by the fire department as an alarm got him into trouble. This story appeared in the June 20, 1912 issue of the Schenectady Gazette. Image obtained via

George Sauerborn with his fish wagon.
From Larry Hart Collection.
Many Schenectadians tried to recreate Sauerborn's distinctive waffle recipe over the years. In 1968, several years after Sauerborn's retirement and his death in 1963, Marv Cermak included a note in his sports column for the Schenectady Gazette proclaiming that local sportsmen Bill Cain, Abe Feldman, and Frankie Kinzel were "putting up a big reward for the information leading to the whereabouts of the recipe" once used by Sauerborn. A feature in the Union-Star in 1970 incorporated letters from local readers who had made attempts to approximate Sauerborn's waffles. "I've altered the waffle recipe again and again and can't hit on it," one writes. "I'd give anything to know what he used." In the same article, Sauerborn's widow, Anna McCann Sauerborn, recalled that a man named A.J. Baker from Trenton, New Jersey, who traveled with carnivals selling waffles, shared the business idea and the recipe with Sauerborn, selling him the horse and wagon.

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