Local food truck owner receives $50K marketing grant from Tampa Bay Lightning owner

'Backing the Bay' grant program now accepting applications
Posted at 3:53 PM, Mar 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-12 17:49:16-05

For Sara Fludd and her gourmet waffle truck, nothing is as sweet as being her own boss. When she and her husband moved to St. Petersburg from Connecticut in 2017, they went all-in with her special Belgian waffle recipe and bought a food truck to bring that waffle to the masses.

"Instead of a Pop-Tart or a bagel you can have a waffle and be on your way out the door with your coffee," said Fludd as she showed Anchor Jamison Uhler around the food truck she purchased that she has named "Blossom."

Fludd admits she has always been a serial entrepreneur but is surprised how quickly her business, "Pop Goes the Waffle," became a hit. So much so that Pop Goes the Waffle didn't just stay mobile. Their business became mostly wholesale selling to local coffee shops and catering events. 80% of Pop Goes the Waffle's business was wholesale with only 20% being food truck sales. Their sweet dreams were coming true.

"Leading up to 2020 we were on an incredible trajectory," said Fludd.

Then that trajectory hit a brick wall named Covid-19. Four solid months of shutdowns and no income followed — and so did the anxiety and doubt.

"When we started this business I cashed out my 401k. We took our retirement money so we bet it all on the truck basically so if that went away, yeah I could rebuild and I could get another job but I don't know if I will be able to rebuild that income loss if we can't turn it around," said Fludd.

When business was allowed to open up again in July, sales were slow. Fludd started an online store to help. And then help came at just the right time. The Vinik Sports Group, owned by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, decided to pour some of their untapped resources into small businesses in the Tampa Bay area. That help was in the form of a $50,000 marketing grant from the Vinik Sports Group called "Backing the Bay."

"We want to make sure they are visible. We want to use our voice to help uplift and amplify small businesses," said Ashley Yore with the Vinik Sports Group.

The $50,000 is just one of 10 the Vinik Sports Group will dole out over the next 10 months to small mom and pops. Half of those grants will go to minority-owned, woman-owned, veteran or LGBTQ-owned businesses.

"So you're going to see that featured small business across the Lightning channels, Amalie Arena channels, the Identity Tampa Bay channels. You're going to see video, custom graphics, sweepstakes, really making sure that they're seen and they're heard," said Yore.

Pop Goes the Waffle was chosen to be the first grant recipient when they made a name for themselves in the hardest four months of their existence. With their business future uncertain, Sara and her husband made and delivered 5,000 donated waffles to frontline workers and children in summer programs on both sides of the bay. Good things are now happening for a small business that didn't know if it would make it just eight months ago.

"It's just thrilling because we're going to see so many people now that don't know we exist," said an excited Fludd.

The "Backing the Bay" grant program is now accepting applications for its April through August grants. They must be in by March 15. To apply, click here.

To follow the next stop for the Pop Goes the Waffle food truck you can find them on Instagram.