If you don’t know what a crepe is – it’s the French version of our pancake — Carla Kessell and Tiffany Walker, the Jefferson City women behind Eat. Crepe. Love., hope to introduce you to this lighter, more sophisticated and versatile delight that can be eaten as dessert or dinner.
In a few short months, the duo have created quite a stir with their savory and sweet crepes made on the spot from their mobile crepe cart.
We caught up with them one evening at Dogmaster Distillery in Columbia where a long line of customers waited for their customized crepes, like the Popular Thai Shrimp, with a cilantro, jalapeño slaw and peanut sauce topped with black sesame seeds, and the Bacon Jalapeño Popper with cream cheese and white cheddar cheese, roasted and candied jalapeños and bacon.
While Walker took orders, Kessell made the tasty crepes, two at a time, as fast as she could, and their parents, family and friends pitched in to help out. Their cart also drew an interested group at The Schaefer House during a few Saturdays in November. Crepes it seems are somewhat novel, fun and festive.
“What’s special about a crepe is it’s a vehicle for whatever you want to add to it,” said Kessell, who has a culinary degree from Johnson and Wales in Charleston, South Carolina. “We make everything from scratch and we’re always testing and adding new flavors to the menu.”
Recent additions include the Berry Love, a mixed berry compote with cheese cake filling topped with whipped cream and the Turtle Cheesecake with salted caramel sauce and butter-roasted pecans. Both put a smile on your face and maybe even warm your heart.
Their logo, which Walker designed, features a drawing of their French Bulldog, Bennie, inside a red heart. The company name was inspired by the bestselling book and movie “Eat Pray Love” and is more than mere words.
The company is a labor of love for Walker and Kessell, who have been together for the past nine years. They met when both worked at O’Donoghue’s Steaks and Seafood, owned by Walker’s Aunt. At that time, Walker was going to nursing school and Kessell was recently divorced.
Today, Walker is a neonatal nurse practitioner at Women and Children’s Hospital at the University of Missouri Health Care in Columbia, and Kessell is a sales rep for Sysco Foods, an international food supplier.
Both foodies, they had talked about opening a restaurant but with their busy careers and raising Kessell’s three children that wasn’t realistic. Kessell also didn’t want to pursue anything that posed a conflict of interest with her clients, which include chefs and restaurants in Jefferson City, Columbia, Linn and Fulton.
“I didn’t want to compete with any of my clients and there were already taco, burger and other food trucks, so we decided to go with crepes,” she said. “My uncle is from Belgium and when he came to visit he would make these classic lemon crepes and they were very good.”
She and Walker travel frequently and always sought out creperies in the major cities and one they love in Key West, Florida. So as they did their research and searched for a cart, they decided that crepes would be their new venture.
“We never wanted to purchase a typical food truck because we wanted people to be able to see Carla making the crepes, but we couldn’t find anything anywhere in the Midwest,” Walker said. “Then Carla heard from a driver for Sysco who saw a hot dog cart sitting in front of a junk shop in Osage Beach. The owner had never heard of a crepe but we struck gold.”
As they renovated the cart, they ordered gas crepe plates from France and set everything up in the garage of their home on Fairmount. They had only a few weeks for everything to come together as they had already booked an event.
Signs were made and a plumber friend installed the gas while Kessell tested different recipes, serving them to their friends and neighbors. A Philly Cheesesteak flavor and The Full Monty, shaved ham, white four cheese blend with blackberry jam, made initial menus. A crepe with Nutella is a mainstay too.
Their first event was the Fork & Cork Artisan Festival in downtown Macon in August.
“I was so nervous and on edge when we pulled up to Macon,” Kessell said. “Even though we felt we were on to something, I told Tiffany, ‘what if no one comes or orders a crepe?’ It seemed like a huge risk in a smaller town, where crepes aren’t that common,” she said.
“But we did great. People would order a savory crepe and then come back later for a sweet one. They gave us hugs and couldn’t have been more welcoming,” she said.
Their second event was a private birthday party at Avenue HQ and then they parked their cart near the Governor’s Mansion during the Jefferson City Multicultural/ Harvest Festival in October. They usually serve a beverage from the cart, too, such as hot spiced cranberry apple cider, Italian blood orange soda and cold-brew coffee.
“We had people coming from blocks away who said they could smell the crepes,” she said. “Sometimes we have customers who don’t know what a crepe is and I’ll talk them through it, and it’s exciting that they’re trying them for the first time,” Walker said.
Since then they’ve worked out their systems and continue to make adjustments. As the cart manager, Walker handles stocking supplies, the propane tanks, cleaning and moving it and sometimes cracking hundreds of eggs for the crepe batter.
Kessell adds her own twist to the fairly basic crepe batter, but some of her recipes for the fillings are more involved. The marinade and sauces involved in the popular Thai Shrimp alone contain more than 40 ingredients. Kessell ladles on the batter and then uses a trowel spreader to shape the crepe, before adding the ingredients, all in front of an audience.
“I love to watch crepes being made in front of you there’s such an art to it,” she said. “There’s a big difference than making a crepe on your stove at home than making a 12 to 14-inch crepe in front of people. There’s a bit of pressure but I’m definitely getting used to it.”
Like any chef, Kessell likes to mix it up use seasonal ingredients. For the Old Munichberg in October, they debuted The Great Pumpkin, pumpkin cheesecake filling with caramel, cinnamon, graham cracker and whipped cream. The Farmer – slow roasted balsamic tomatoes with white four cheese blend, asparagus and spinach – went over well and will return in the spring and summer.
“We only use the tomatoes from Tiffany’s parent’s garden in Taos,” Kessell said.
“We’re always adding to the menu because I don’t like to get stagnant with my cooking.”
They post their menus for upcoming events on the Eat. Crepe. Love. Facebook page, and happy customers post about their experiences. So far word of mouth and social media are generating more calls and buzz. They found a woman in graduate school at the University of Missouri to help them with marketing and social media, and their following keeps growing. They’re booked for a spring wedding and are receiving other calls to make their crepes at various special events.
Both are excited that their “baby” is going so well but right now they can control their schedule and handle the prep for the crepes at night.
“We seem to have found a niche in both the experience and the product. Foodies dig it and any time we can cater to that, to making people happy that’s awesome,” she said.