In 2007, Jeff Tonidandel and his wife Jamie Brown quit their corporate jobs and packed up for an 8 month trip around the world. Each carried just one backpack. They shared a roller bag stocked with a video camera (pre-iphone days), cords, an iPad, and books.
Also in the roller bag was a small, used notebook nicknamed “Crazy.”
“Everywhere we traveled, ‘Crazy’ was where we put all our ideas. Anything went,” says Tonidandel. “There were a lot of different business ideas in there, and that is also where we see the first concepting of Crepe Cellar.”
When the pair returned back to Charlotte after having spent most of their time in Europe, the great recession hit the US, and jobs were hard to find. Jeff got by teaching tennis. His wife began working part-time for lululemon. Then one evening, Jeff and his wife went to dinner at Brixx Pizza on East Boulevard, where Jeff confessed, “I’ve decided I know what I want to do.”
He paused before saying, “I want to open a restaurant.”
Although she wasn’t entirely onboard with the idea, it was only still a crazy idea captured in a small black book, Jeff’s wife eventually agreed. She could tell he was passionate about the idea. About nine months later, Crepe Cellar opened during the low point of the recession.
Crepe Cellar weathered the economic storm and today is still tucked in a fast-growing, fast-changing part of town serving delicious European-inspired meals like Guinness Stew, Fish & Chips, along with savory and sweet crepes. The restaurant uniquely dishes up traditional buckwheat crepes as served in the Brittany region of France.
Here are the five cities Brown says most inspired the European gastropub’s concept, menu, approach and feel.
Bordeaux, France. Tonidandel and Brown stayed on a vineyard at a cousin’s house. Here they learned how the French value fresh breads and cheeses. “It’s simply a different level from what we had experienced here in the US at the time,” said Brown.
Reims, France. In Champagne country, the couple visited the Pommery Vineyards. “There was something so intimate about the process and the time that goes into making even one bottle,” says Brown of the experience. “The idea of creating a product or experience that stirred up joy and memories in people was beginning to flicker for us.”
San Sebastián, Spain. Known as one of the best places in the world for food, the couple visited little bars that encouraged people to dine together. “You could poke your head in little bars and have tapas style food next to complete strangers and all enjoy the time, food and place together,” said Brown.
Granada, Spain. The simplicity and beauty of dining experiences here dazzled the couple. “What we loved most were the quaint restaurants with the glow of candles on tables, and the small rooms where we sat on the edges of the room to watch Flamenco dancers dance to solo guitarists,” said Brown.
Tarifa, Spain. The kite surfing capital of the world has, as Brown described, “Some of the smallest, most charming restaurants sprinkled all over town.” These usually open air restaurants have closely set tables where you could stay for hours.
Part of the influence these places had on Crepe Cellar came from the food. Part came from the feel of the spaces — smaller, intimate, slower-paced.
“A great part of the influence came from simply stepping away from here, and getting to a place where I could really focus on what I was meant to do, [which is] food and hospitality,” says Tonidandel. “I’m grateful everyday to have had the opportunity to go.”
Visit Crepe Cellar Kitchen & Pub online or in person at 3116 N. Davidson Street in NoDa.