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Crepe café opening downtown

BY ADAM SALAZAR | DECEMBER 04, 2009 7:30 AM

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From the outside, the covered windows don’t give much to the imagination for those passing by. But that isn’t the case inside.

Brightly painted walls of yellow and green, a crimson floor path that leads to a row of brown tables and chairs, and countless boxes filled with white ceramic plates and cups sit atop a lengthy countertop that will serve pastries and a foreign delicacy many Iowans don’t eat every day.

For two months now, the prospective location of Crêpes De Luxe Café, 309 E. College St., has been closed because of constant renovations to meet city standards. However, owner Hicham Chehouani said that the time is certainly near. He wants to open sometime this month before the holiday season.

Only a few minor details prevent Chehouani from opening Iowa City’s first and only full-service crêperie.

A French pastry with origins in the Northwest region of Brittany, France, crêpes are a type of a very thin pancake made usually from wheat flour. The food usually has a sweet or savory filling depending on the season or if they’re eaten as a meal or as a dessert.

Fillings include asparagus, eggs, ham, and cheese for savory crêpes, which are made with buckwheat flour. Sweet varieties can have Nutella, strawberries, and sugar. Chehouani, a native of Rabat, Morroco, will offer at least 14 different varieties of crêpes along with an assortment of pastries, coffee, and a retail section.

Chehouani, who arrived in Iowa City in 2003 after living and working as a model in Chicago and Los Angeles, was first introduced to crêpes as a child when his mother worked as a nanny for a French family shortly after the country’s colonial period.

Unknown to most Iowans, crêpes are very popular in the Francophonie — a group of countries that recognize French as an official or auxiliary language.

Chehouani said many locals have only seen crêpes at festivals and on television, and the idea fits well with the local culture.

“It’s something unique and [Iowa City doesn’t] have it here, and everyone craves it,” the 37-year-old said.

Opening the restaurant was not without problems, however.

Chehouani said it was not until he signed the lease in early September that he found out about the multitude of regulations and the permits that are needed to pass building codes to operate.

Miscommunication was another factor.

“The rules are so hard; nobody gave me any direction of where to go,” he said

However, after a couple of months of going back to the drawing board and an infusion of capital from friends and family, Chehouani said he has no problems complying with the city’s regulations and only wants to open his business.

“There is a lot of red tape, but we see it as our job to help people to navigate through that bureaucracy,” said Jann Ream, the Iowa City Department of Housing and Inspection Services code enforcement assistant.

Ream said the reason Chehouani needed to meet so many regulations was because the site was undergoing a change, from a former retail store to a restaurant, that required some adjustments.

In an e-mail after an inspection on Wednesday, she said that apart from a few minor issues, she seems confident that the city will issue a certificate of occupancy.

Good news for UI senior William Watson of Waterloo, who is Chehouani’s only employee at the moment. The two have been friends for quite some time, and Watson jumped on board because his interest and support of the concept. William’s only previous experience with crêpes was in a high-school French class.

“I think it’s going to be a big hit,” he said.


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