It sounds almost like something out of a Tim Burton film: sandwiches that are delivered via handmade parachutes. One need only submit their cash online, wait on an “x” marking the spot at street level, then reach out and catch, while delicacies forged of ham and cheese descend from the heavens. So it was, with intense intrigue and hints of skepticism, that the jafflechute made its way to the real-life world of New York City.
Though it’s just landed stateside, the odd-sounding food was actually born last August, across the globe in Melbourn, Australia ¬– a place where the name is commonplace enough (it’s a portmanteau of the Australian-style sandwich and the parachute it’s tied to). Describing the jaffle itself, though, is a bit difficult for the unfamiliar. Is it a grilled cheese? “That’s the closest translation,” says Adam Grant, one of the three masterminds (or as some may call them, “crazed inventors”) behind the project, along with friends David McDonald and Huw Parkinson. “It’s like halfway between a calzone and a grilled cheese, made with regular bread, then sealed in a jaffle press [an appliance designed specifically for the job] ” And of the funny moniker, he adds, “It’s close to waffle, and who doesn’t love the word waffle?” Agreed.
The idea for jafflecutes came about like most half-crazy-half-awesome ideas do, during a long weekend with best friends, accompanied by ample free time, few distractions and, ok, a bit of alcohol, too. “The short story that we usually tell people is that we went to an Airbnb rental in the countryside,” Adam says. “I missed the part about it not having electricity or internet.” Without any technology to use, the group gathered around drinks and good conversation. “We just hung around for a weekend in the dark and cold, talking and drinking and talking and it kinda came up there. No idea has a definitive starting point, but we just all ended up at that rental that night.”
So how do they work? Jaffle fans follow along online to see when the next sandwich drop will commence. Once an event is announced, along with the types of jaffles they’ll offer, hungry customers place an order and pay up through PayPal. Then, before the special day, they’ll announce the secret location on social media, where an “X” will be waiting on the ground. Stand there at the proper time, and you’re hot, fresh jaffle will float right down to your eager hands.
Well, sometimes it does. “Quite often something goes wrong, like it gets swept against the building and lands on a ledge, or it goes into a tree, or it crosses the road and goes down the lane,” Adam explains. “So if it doesn’t make it down to the ground, we’ll send another, and we’ll just keep sending them down.” It’s actually been this unpredictable nature of the whole project that he says has made it increasingly fun for the folks who place orders. “People will know vaguely when the parachute will come down,” Adam says. “But no one on the ground knows whether it’s theirs or their friend’s or a stranger’s, so everyone — and this was an accident — is equally invested in the success of that parachute.”
Finding ideal drop-off spots has proven to be the biggest challenge for the jafflechutes. To get maximal airtime, Adam and crew require each location to be at least 4 to 7 stories tall. And, of course, not all landlords are too keen on sandwiches flying out of their property. “We thought really early on it would be a little bit uncouth,” Adam says. “I was also concerned about my neighbors because we did it from my apartment the first time. I’d rather it be kind of disembodied, like how we only talk on social media. I’d even prefer if no one saw us at all, if we tried to remain invisible.”
The mysterious nature of it all, though, is built atop a dreamy DIY ethos. Each parachute and jaffle are carefully made by hand, a relatively time consuming process. “I think each parachute probably takes about 10 minutes to make and probably costs about $1, but it’s fun to play around with,” Adam says. “It had always been, at the beginning, kind of an excuse to stay home from the pub and make websites or talk about things. It was like making use of time that we would otherwise be drinking away or not spending wisely.”
Now, from a slew of garbage bags, clear tape, nylon string, little bits of wire and colorful pipe cleaners, the jafflechutes have emerged in New York City. Since May, they’ve done three drops stateside — 2 in Brooklyn (in Bushwick and Williamsburg) and 1 in Manhattan (in the West Village) — plus 1 in Montreal. Next up? Adam has his eyes on Greenpoint or possibly somewhere in Queens for future secret locations. “It would be nice to see how far can you take it off the street from its natural place and still keep the experience intact,” Adam says. “Can we jafflechute from town hall for example? What would change there? I like the craziness of how it works. And the things that don’t work about it, I’m kind of endeared to.” Really, what’s not to love about the opportunity to eat a flying lunch at least once in your lifetime?