Buy at the window or come in and chill?
January 21, 2009 2:35 PM   Subscribe

I want to open a crepe shop. Help me!

It's not 100% yet but I've had the idea of opening one for quite some time now. A great location has opened up and I'm seriously considering grabbing it.

The location is on a popular downtown street, close to a movie theatre, and some nearby nightclubs. The plan is to be open from 9am-3am (allowing people to get a quick breakfast, lunch, and pre/post club fare).

The shop would be in an alley (in between two other businesses). It's a wide alley and would allow for outside seating, which would be amazing in the summer.

Now, I have two options and I'm debating them with myself now.

Do I:

a) Have it so that the crepes are made at the window with no access inside the store for seating? I think this would be efficient and different, as no one else in the city does it.

b) Have seating inside (it's a relatively small store ~650sf). If I have seating I have to worry about cleaning and everything that comes with having a 'restaurant'.

I'm leaning toward a window front (option a) but I'd like to know what everyone thinks.

Any other advice would be much appreciated.
posted by 913 to Shopping (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I've always like the walk-up crepe stand kinda thing, myself. You'd be limited to the kind you can eat out of hand sans utensils, though.
posted by cabingirl at 2:42 PM on January 21, 2009

What if it's raining? If I'm out clubbing, and I want my post-alcohol snack, and there's inclement weather, I'm surely not going to stand out in it no matter how badass your crepes are.

Incidentally, I love crepes! There was a crepe shop in London that served crepes without utensils. They had a triangular, lightweight cardboard envelope sort of deal for the take away crepes. Sort of like the paper that goes around a sugar cone, only flat. I thought that was perfect.
posted by santojulieta at 2:44 PM on January 21, 2009

Walk-up! With an awning.
posted by kconner at 2:47 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Could you do some sort of combination? Where you have a door and a window? The part where the crepes are actually made would be along the side of the shop -- so that one could order outside at the window, or order inside and chill. it'd look something like this:
posted by majikstreet at 2:47 PM on January 21, 2009

There's a very similar crepe shop in my hometown's downtown pedestrian mall. It does the "though-the-window" deal.

Works great in the summer; not so much in the winter. I think they actually shut down during the colder months- and this is located in Virginia, not exactly a place known for its cold. Unless you've moved, you're in Canada. So that would definitely be a factor to consider. Maybe you could work out a deal with the theater to allow patrons to bring crepes in with them?

The world needs more crepe stands! Make it happen!
posted by charmcityblues at 2:47 PM on January 21, 2009

You will not necessarily be limited to what you can had out. A place I'd walk up to in Prague had little paper rectangular plates that the folded crepe fit on perfectly, and gave you a little plastic fork. It was lovely, especially in cold months, to have something warm like that to eat while walking.

Awning is a nice idea for when it's raining. I think even in cold weather, you will have some people willing to eat to go crepes, just not as any as in the nicer weather.
posted by piratebowling at 2:53 PM on January 21, 2009

Seconding a wide awning. If you do have a little bit of indoor seating, I recommend having it only available certain hours. For example, at 2:30 AM having just a window is much safer and simpler. But at lunchtime if there was an area with even 2 small tables and 4 chairs, you'd be surprised how many people would want to use them.
posted by hermitosis at 2:55 PM on January 21, 2009

Also, they have those tall outdoor space heaters that you might consider investing in. A single one of those for people to huddle around as they ate would be really lovely.
posted by hermitosis at 2:56 PM on January 21, 2009

I like the walk-up idea. If you do really well you may then want to expand and provide seating. I'm guessing that the cost difference should inspire you to go the window only route at first. Annecdotally, in my neck of the woods many a food cart has gotten off the ground and become popular enough to open a sit-down restaurant a year or so later.
posted by rosebengal at 3:07 PM on January 21, 2009

The best burger shop here (Winnipeg) has a walk-up window, but there's a glassed-in "hallway" in front of it with a door at each end. It has that walk-up-window feel, but they're open all year round and you can wait in line inside when it's really cold. That might be a good compromise between the two for a crepe shop, too.
posted by pocams at 3:10 PM on January 21, 2009

Do both; the breakfast and lunch crowd is going to want to sit and maybe spend a little time and be waited on, while the club crowd will mainly want to scarf and go. Close up the indoor space after lunch and focus on turning out the to-go orders quickly.
posted by bizwank at 3:48 PM on January 21, 2009

I just walked past a very small crepe shop (I'd estimate 400 sq feet for the front area) while visiting Key West last week, and they had a combo setup. The window was made for walkup, and then there was a corridor going into the store for bar seating (only 4-5 chairs at most?). There were two employees inside, and at least two of the crepe stations were directly in front of the window - good visual when walking by, plus a great smell. In that area, it seemed to make sense, as there weren't many places you could sit down and eat within a few blocks.
posted by shinynewnick at 3:50 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think it's a great idea, and wish you luck!

But I wanted to point out that you're going to have to worry about 'cleaning and' (at least some) 'other things that come with having a restaurant.'

For one thing, no matter what you serve your crepes in, your customers (especially the late night ones) are going to throw it directly on the ground in front of your establishment. If you don't have a plan for dealing with that, your neighbors are going to get annoyed mighty quick.

Then there's health department inspections, etc. to consider, no matter what form your establishment takes. Selling food to the public is heavily regulated.
posted by trip and a half at 4:00 PM on January 21, 2009

I really think you should do both. If your place is a nice place to sit down and eat, you'll do more business. Besides, people are weird and like different things. Some may be put off by just a window. And in the winter... crepes and hot cocoa! Just imagine the delicious combo. :-9
posted by CoralAmber at 6:07 PM on January 21, 2009

OOhh my favorite place for breakfast is about a block away from my office: It's Just Crepes! They have dine in, but I think most people get theirs to go, however, this is also in a downtown area, right next to the courthouse, so that might be why... however, they have earlier hours (7:30AM - 3PM), but I have certainly craved a crepe or two after a few happy hours.

Good luck! Make sure you always have a special that is a dollar or two cheaper than usual, and maybe seasonal.

I'm sure if you contacted the people from the above link I posted, they could tell you all about starting a crepe place, since they just opened a few months ago and Keven and Karrah are both super super nice.
posted by banannafish at 6:16 PM on January 21, 2009

Yeah walk up and awning - it's how they do it in Europe anyway.

We do crepes at our bistro and you can get a double-top machine, keep it on the side and do all your prep work next to it (e.g. crepe machine in back, prep table, then register in front facing out).

Depending on where you are, it may help w/ the health code issues (open air can be rough) and you will have less chance of burning yourself (the crepe machines are pretty deep and all of our employees have burnt themselves at some point reaching the shelf above), burning your customers, and outside air / money contamination if you keep the food stuff towards the back. It makes a more efficient assembly line also.

Plus, it might give you space to do some POS products.

Of course, if you want to have customers walk in, then by all means have the crepe machines by the window - just know that you will have to keep your place IMMACULATE if you have an open kitchen. And with crepe machines, you get a lot of overspill so you have to scrape regularly, haul the sucker out and clean in the back and if that's up against the window.... err, gross.

We use the Equipex Diversa 400 ED at our place - it makes a pretty good-sized crepe (like, a meal size) and we do sweet and savory. It takes about two-three minutes to cook it on both sides so for a rush, it's nice to have the double top, esp. if that's the only thing you're doing.

Good machine, we've had it for four years with only one problem (thermostat pooped out recently - their customer service is pretty nice though).

One more thing - we use crepe mix, which is nice because it's fairly consistent (gotta mix hard to get the lumps out though) and we've also done it with our own recipe (add water, not milk!). The house recipe tastes a lot better and is cheaper but the mix was really convenient so you may want to consider it if you don't have a lot of refrigerator space.

Whew. Anyway, good luck with your business!
posted by HolyWood at 6:17 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Depending on your neighborhood (and target customers), you might consider earlier hours. The only reason I have not gone to the crepe shop that's fairly close to my house is that it doesn't open until 9am. I crave crepes earlier than that, apparently.
posted by pril at 6:36 PM on January 21, 2009

Walk-up window. Use half of the inside space for stand up only eating. Have a bunch of those chest height round tables that people can stand at and lean on.

Glass partition inside so folk can see the crepey cooking action but they have to pop outside to buy the goods.

Watch out for local regulations about providing toilet facilities if people are coming inside.
Mail huge discount coupons to MeFites.
posted by Xhris at 7:55 PM on January 21, 2009

The creperie in Hampstead (London) does the window style thing. It's not the most comfortable when it's cold and wet, but that just seems to whip up traffic for boozy or cheesy crepes.

There's always a long line, but there are always people sitting at the nearest bus stop bench etc finishing up crepes. Given the liquidy nature of some crepes, it's great that you can have some sort of outdoor seating. Depending on your climate and local regulations, maybe you could set up an outdoor heater at night?

I'd say go with outdoors. It's fun, groups of children won't get on your nerves, you won't have to clean after others or serve people, etc.

(On preview, I like Xhris's idea)

If you have a window, I'd suggest having several menus along where the queue will form. People take ages to make up their minds. Also, pre-plan a flow of traffic for ordering, paying and collecting, which the Hampstead creperie lacks (and makes up for with gruffness)

For serving, the Hampstead creperie has two options: either a plastic box (which is charged extra), or a waxed cardboard envelope which you could peel away as you ate. To keep the crepe's structure, there is a small strong mini-cone at the very end, sort of like at the end of an icecream cone. The utensil is a combination knife/fork (like a spork with a knife instead of a spoon).

And a small wish-list for the Hampstead creperie: since it's all being prepared in front of me, and I can see where the food is coming from, I wish they'd use more fresh ingredients, even if they charged a premium for it. No need for UHT cream in such a high traffic stall. Also seasonal fruits and non-trad variations or specials would be great (look up paratha roll, or rumali roti, which are filled with a gravy-free Pakistani/ Indian chicken or paneer tikka mix, and could work nicely with crepes as well)

Good luck! Wish you were in my neighbourhood.
posted by tavegyl at 2:16 AM on January 22, 2009

Why not a combination?

I didn't see if you mentioned the weather conditions in the area, but you can plan for them all.

A walk-up window is best, with an awning as large as you're legally able to use. Most of these awnings can be semi-portable/roll-up which also means that you can use other poles and wind covers along the side to make a weather resistant area for outdoor seating any time of year.

If you have a small walk-in area, it should be just a short hall with some standup tables or at most, bar stools or seats. This will keep the clientele warm/sheltered/etc in adverse conditions as well. Many smaller Pizza parlors do this.

Also, you can shift availability as well. Late nights, likely to be safer if only the walk-up window is open (like fast food drive-thrus) and that short hallway area is potentail storage for your outside seating (unless you can anchor them, they are likely to be stolen periodically)
posted by emjay at 8:22 AM on January 22, 2009

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