We are pleased to feature some of the incredible local businesses that make Merchantville such a special place here on the Business Spotlight.
Spotlight on Charlie's Crepes, 177 S. Centre Street
Owners: Charles and Lisa
By Emily Copeman, Merchantville resident
We understand Charlie’s started as a Food Truck - when did you begin that business and what inspired you to do so?
We started in April of 2015… We had been kicking around food ideas, an empanada truck business called “The Humble Pie Company,” and we actually priced out a truck, and it came in around $70k. We had a couple of friends over for the Super Bowl that year, and I ended up making bbq pulled pork crepes… They were good, and the couple said we should consider it for a business. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but then my wife, Lisa, brought it up again… So we looked into the pricing of a modified hot dog cart as a crepe stand, and it was a lot more manageable as a food business idea, so we decided to go for it!
How did you choose this location for your first brick-and-mortar?
I ran across it by accident. I had never taken Cuthbert to the end, and one day I did. I had to go and get some supplies from Restaurant Depot in Pensauken, so I figured I’d cut through Merchantville to get there. As I rounded the circle I noticed a sign for “Taqueria Tablas”, and as my daughter loves Mexican food, I decided to take a closer look, and that’s when I noticed a “for rent” sign in the window. I also took a look in the window and noticed an overhead Ansul system and vent hood. As this over-head vent system can be an substantial expense for potential retail spaces, my interests were automatically peaked. However there was no phone number on the “for rent” sign. I went next door to the deli and asked the person working behind the counter if she had the number for the landlord, she did! We did our due diligence and a few weeks later we were signing the lease…
What is the best crepe on the menu?
Anything seasonal, from the local farmers, is a pretty good bet to be our best crepe during any given season. As far as the “standards” go, I’m preferential to the Sherry Shallot Mushrooms, and if you are interested in a classic, you can’t go wrong with the banana Nutella sauce crepe…
What inspired you to go from food truck to restaurant?
In our minds, what we were doing, and what we are doing is pretty unique. We are partnering with local farmers, to offer a made from scratch product, with no frills that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg… In our area, if you want the dollar menu, it’s available, if you want the fine dining experience, it’s available, and if you want a super “middle of the road” option, where care and quality ingredients go into every dish, now you have it with “Charlie’s Crepes.” Plus we love our customers, we love to see them happy and smile. Some have been coming to our cart, and now our store, every week ever since we started in 2015… Who wouldn’t want to see and spread that kind of joy in the world?
Why did you choose Merchantville for your location?
It’s the perfect location. The street we are on is a thoroughfare between Cherry Hill, Merchantville and Pennsauken to some degree. And it has thriving neighboring towns such as Collingswood, Haddon Heights, Haddon TWP, and Haddonfield… All of New Jersey is booming. The North Jersey folks are discovering the bounties of South Jersey and South Jersey is beginning to bloom. You can see it on the waterfront in Camden, you can feel it in the restaurant scene in our townships and boroughs, and you can also reach out and pick some of the best produce in the world, right here in our back yards and neighboring counties. AND the town has opened their arms to embrace us. We now have new friends and patrons who we see every week, sometimes more than once a week! The response has been unbelievable, you can see it online on Facebook, Instagram and Yelp… The reviews speak for themselves, and it is reciprocal. And, you know, #merchantvillerocks !
What is your top-selling menu item?
Bacon Jam sells really well, especially when paired with the Vanilla Bourbon Peaches, or topped with a poached egg… I’d also say it really depends on what the seasonal offerings are as well.
When we visited, we noticed Charlie’s Crepes is very much a family operation - what is the best thing about being in it together? The most challenging?
My family is my rock. They are there for me when no one else is there. My wife Lisa, in her own respect, is an excellent pastry chef. She was a professional cake designer for a while, and she brings unbridled imagination and creativity to our sweet as well as our savory creations… My kids, they make me smile. The youngest is a charming magician, the middle is an Odyssey of the Mind mental mathematician / fashion designer, and the oldest follows in her mother’s footsteps and makes the most amazing macaron cookies. So if they can, and want to be in the shop, it is a blessing to have them there… As far as challenges go, work / life has unique challenges no matter the field you choose. My hat is tipped to you for making it work, if you are able, as life is not cheap, or easy. In our specific situation, the hours of the shop are somewhat dictated by the care needs of our youngest son. We only keep certain business hours, because we have family needs, but with love, strength, mutual respect and support, we hope to make it work!
What do you think keeps customers coming back?
Good food, in a relaxed atmosphere, and us!
What is your favorite thing about running a business in Merchantville?
The smiles, the opportunity, the guy who comes and gets coffee from me every morning and his dog. The simple things, being 10 minutes away from where I live, the fact that I can create something good, that can sustain a person, and they can leave me happy and satisfied. And the rock and roll aspect of it, Elvis rocked, and #merchantvillerocks !
How often do you change the menu, and, how do you choose which ingredients to feature?
We have “standard crepes” such as ham and cheese and banana Nutella, but we’ll also use what is in season. A few weeks ago cherries were bountiful, now peaches are really coming into a sweet spot, as well as blackberries… Corn is starting to happen, and in a few weeks pumpkins and butternut squash will shine… To everything turn turn turn, there is a season turn turn turn… And a time to every purpose…
Do you work with local farms or purveyors?
All of the time… We have been at the Collingswood market since 2015, and we keep the shop closed during market hours while it is market season… We use Schober (Peaches), Fruitwood (Cherries, honey and other berries), Viereck (tomatoes, peppers, blackberries), Flaim (greens and root veggies), Formisano (greens and root veggies), Eckert’s Corn, Springdale (strawberries / corn), Buckwild Bison, Hillacres Pride bacon, and Savoie (potatoes, garlic, garlic scapes and peppers). Our farmers constantly challenge us to make our recipes live up to their amazing produce!
How did you learn to make crepes?
A grandmother at a gite (farmhouse) in the South of France, on our honeymoon was kind enough to share her recipe with me. I’ve been perfecting it since… The path of spinning them on the cart was a learning curve when I got the cart in ’15… Let’s just say, they didn’t always look as good then, as they do now!
What is the best customer feedback you have received?
“That was the best thing I have ever eaten”… One customer said of our pumpkin custard crepe. There have been others about various other crepes since… Or “that was better than the crepes we had in France!” From a more recent customers’ kids… But mostly the smiles and the “thank you” we get on a daily basis, keep us calm, and doing what we do…
What are your goals for the business as you look to the future?
I hope to at least break even, and to be able to provide for my family. Not in it to get rich, there are probably easier roads to that… I tell people, “sometimes you pick what you do in life, and other times life picks you.” I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be the crepe maker… But that’s what what I am, and it’s a good thing.
What would you say to other entrepreneurs looking at Merchantville as a potential location for their business?
Don’t let this hidden gem pass you by. It is at a crossroads literally and metaphorically. If you want to capitalize on the potential of South Jersey, our region, and our proximity to Philly, I’d say the doors are open for business in this affordable, rocking, on the rise, beautiful town. Because, you know Merchantville Rocks! #merchantvillerocks
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I write original songs. I multitrack, produce, engineer, play every instrument on all of the tracks and master those songs. Professional, sustainable, success with music didn’t happen for me. Maybe it was when I was born, maybe it was luck, maybe it was all of those things. There’s no regret, but creating food and getting gratification from seeing a happy customer, is not too dissimilar from the applause of a crowd. It’s all good… I’m in a band called “Lounge Act”, and we’ll be playing a show at Collingswood Music on Saturday, September 29th after I close up the crepe shop for the evening… To hear some of our original music, please give a listen to our soundcloud page: https://soundcloud.com/lounge-act-08108