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Simply Crepes’ success shows with opening of franchise No. 4

Simply Crepes Bay Road
The new Simply Crepes location at 1229 Bay Road in Penfield is set to open in October. (Photo provided)

Back in 2004, a year after he and his wife had launched Simply Crepes in Schoen Place, Pierre Heroux was already dreaming big.

Inspired by the crepes made by his grandmother back in Quebec and spun into an entire menu of culinary delights by his wife, Karen, Simply Crepes wasn’t just going to be a one-off, canal side dining destination in Pittsford.

Pierre Heroux knew they had found a niche, and he saw no reason why exponential growth in Rochester and beyond wouldn’t be part of the near future.

When interviewed for a profile in SimonBusiness, an in-house publication for the Simon Business School at the University of Rochester, he said they expected to have 50 locations within seven years.

The prediction turned out to be a little off the mark. OK, way off the mark. Simply Crepes is just now putting the finishing touches on eatery No. 4, at 1229 Bay Rd. in Penfield, with christening planned for October.

But the family-owned business has been immensely successful, not just in Pittsford, but also at its Canandaigua location (in operation since 2007) as well as Raleigh, N.C. (launched in 2011). And big expansion may not be all that far off.

Pierre and Karen Heroux, owners of Simply Crepes
Pierre and Karen Heroux, co-founders of Simply Crepes. (Photo provided)

Simply Crepes has perfected the polished casual and progressively traditional dining experience, with 70 to 75 percent of the menu served in, on or with a crepe.

The Webster/Penfield location, in the works since the spring of 2018, is finally coming to fruition. But there’s a twist; Simply Crepes 2.0, if you will.

For one, the location is the largest yet, 3,300 square feet (Pittsford is 1,500 and Canandaigua and Raleigh are around 3,000). The color scheme is still heavy on blue, but it’s a different shade of blue. There’s a country house feel with barn doors and environmentally friendly fireplaces as part of the décor.

This will also be the first franchise location with a full bar.

The original Simply Crepes was designed by Hanlon Architects interior designer Annette Basinger in collaboration with Karen Heroux. Nearly 20 years later, Basinger worked with Nicole Heroux-Williams, the company’s director of marketing and the new steward of the brand, to create the latest look.

“We’ve maintained the color of the brand, the feel of the brand,” Pierre Heroux said.

That brand is paramount to the business.

“We want to maintain that essence of special,” Nicole Heroux-Williams said.

That’s one reason expanding the franchise footprint has been methodical.

“The food is the show,” Pierre Heroux said. “You want to deliver excellent food consistently, along with some solid hospitality.”

To do so, there must be a culture within the company, a desire of every employee — and they’ll be up to 130 when Webster/Penfield opens —to meet the standards of expectations.

“Wegmans is very good because they have a culture,” Pierre Heroux said. “They train their people and invest in their people.

“Someone said to me not long after we opened ‘You’re successful.’ But we weren’t successful then. I look at an individual like Red Fedele, who at that time had been in business 20 some years (with Red Fedele’s Brook House in Greece). When you’re still cranking it out and your customers love what you’re doing for all those years, that is success.”

Less than a year away from the 20th anniversary, there’s no denying Simply Crepes is successful. And while the Webster/Penfield location is the first new franchise in 11 years, it’s really just the start of expansion.

The foundation for growth was put in place in recent years with additions to the management team. Aaron Bolton was hired as corporate executive chef, Gregg Galuska was named director of operations and Ben Empey has the dual role of director of sales and culture.

“We invested in a strong management team,” Nicole Heroux-Williams said.

While Karen Heroux has stepped away from day-to-day duties as CEO, Pierre continues to oversee operations and their daughters head different departments (Nicole in marketing, Michelle Conlon as director of human resources).

“I could not do this is it wasn’t for their massive contributions,” Pierre Heroux said.

The Buffalo and Syracuse markets are being explored as possible sites for new locations. So, too, as the Raleigh and Cary, N.C., market.

“Those are the two states where we know how to do business,” Pierre Heroux said.

They’re again thinking big, too. They hired a Dallas-based consulting firm to determine where else a Simply Crepes customer base might exist.

“We wanted to know who our customers are and where they might exist in large numbers,” Pierre Heroux said. “The consultant identified 465 suburban locations. And that doesn’t include urban centers.”

Thus, when Pierre Heroux talks expansion now, it’s a lot closer to reality. But the Heroux family isn’t going to tackle rapid franchising alone.

“I’m looking for a partner that can take us to that level, where capital and development resources are not an issue,” Pierre Heroux said.

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Farm-to-table movement gains steam in Finger Lakes


Full-service hotels, especially those in small markets, don’t normally get adventurous with their restaurants.

But the Ramada Plaza in Geneva, which changed hands in October 2017, has set out to do just that with the hiring of Finger Lakes culinary star chef Samantha Buyskes, who has been at the forefront of the farm-to-table movement for more than a decade.

Samantha Buyskes, executive chef at F2T restaurant in Geneva, explains the meat course served at a special dinner after the alfresco FLX event organized by the Canandaigua Chamber of Commerce. Photo supplied by the chamber.
Samantha Buyskes, executive chef at F2T restaurant in Geneva, explains the meat course served at a special dinner after the alfresco FLX event organized by the Canandaigua Chamber of Commerce. (Provided photo)

Buyskes’ talents were on full display this week when about 60 people convened for a conference, alfresco FLX, on the local farm-to-table movement and agritourism organized by the Canandaigua Chamber of Commerce. The conference took place at the 20-year-old Ramada, which sits at the northern end of Seneca Lake.

Buyskes started working at the hotel restaurant in December and has brought her culinary expertise and her deep connections to local food producers with her. She rolled out the new concept for the restaurant, now called F2T, in January.

“I’m hoping half the people who had lunch today will think differently about their restaurant,” said Chamber president Ethan Fogg. The Chamber pulled together the conference so people could connect with others in hospitality, farm and tourism industries. And making them all familiar with F2T was also part of the agenda for what Fogg hopes will be an annual conference.

At a family-style lunch, conference attendees were treated to asparagus grown in Seneca Castle resting on a pool of green cream made with cashew cream cheese and locally grown ramps (a type of wild onion or garlic) along with a navy bean salad made from beans grown locally. An apple and beet salad was sprinkled with goat cheese from one of the oldest craft cheese producers in the region, Interlaken’s Lively Run Farm. Sliced roast beef came from Rosenkrans Farms in Seneca Falls, a farm that Buyskes has been doing business with since it was run by the current operator’s father.

Ramada Geneva manager Terry Sindt said the hotel’s new owners – KPG Management of Philadelphia – wanted to try some new concepts with the destination hotel. They repainted the outside, refurbished about half the rooms so far and wanted to update the restaurant, too.

Looking around at the community’s most popular restaurants, it became clear that if the Ramada wanted to compete, it needed to join the locavore movement that is heavily represented in Geneva, Sindt said.

“We definitely want to be in that top five,” he said.

One of the owners then noticed that Buyskes’ latest restaurant, HJ Stead, was closing in October 2018 so the owners could focus on their wine and beer businesses. So Sindt approached Buyskes about coming to the Ramada.  Buyskes owned and operated Simply Red Bistro in Ithaca and Ovid for 10 years and started Kindred Fare in Geneva in 2015. She also was a contestant on the television game show, “Chopped.”

During the conference lunch, Buyskes said the farm-to-table movement has evolved so much that she can now serve 99 percent of the menu from locally or regionally sourced producers, right down to the flour in the pastries she served at dinner time and the cream-top milk that goes into the food. Restaurants like Kindred Fare with substantial buying power can have a life-changing impact on farms and other producers, Buyskes said.

It’s been an adventure of sorts with the staff, though, experienced in working in a commercial kitchen that relied on frozen items. Buyskes said, for instance, lunchtime patrons are used to asking for applesauce as a side, and the staff would still like to accommodate that request by digging into the hotel banquet business’s supplies instead of sticking with the local-only philosophy of the restaurant.

She later added that she might start making her own applesauce but it hasn’t been a priority so far. The menu still includes soups and sandwiches with deli meats, but they come from an artisanal charcuterie maker in Penn Yan, not the local restaurant supplier. Buyskes changes the menu every couple of weeks, but continues to have standards regular customers are used to, while adding items like grain bowls, curry and others.

Sindt said the banquet business at the hotel is still traditional but patrons booking events have the option of a having a farm-to-table menu instead.

Two panel discussions in the morning of the alfresco FLX event considered other subjects such as growing supply and demand and creating a sustainable experience for visitors.

Deb Carbin Fox, publisher of Vermont by Rail magazine and promoter of rail events in New England and the Finger Lakes, said visitor experiences should appeal to all the senses: “They have to see it, smell it, taste it, feel it.” And when wine is the experience, the clinking of glasses in a toast adds the “hear it,” she noted.

Answering a question from Paul Brock, a winery owner and Finger Lakes Community College professor, about how to diversify agritourism beyond the wine industry, Fox said culinary tours might be a next step. “It’s important to keep up with who your audience is,” she said.

Vincent Feucht, an educator at Cumming Nature Center in Naples and co-owner of Scrumble Wood Farm in Rushville, said cheese is a natural pairing with wine and there should be more promotion of it, along with more visitor accommodations.

Diversity is the hallmark of Lincoln Hill Farm, said owner Brian Mastrosimone. He started out as a viticulture student under Brock but later decided he didn’t want to create only a winery. Instead he diversified the crops grown on his 85 acres near FLCC, and has created a music venue and event space at the farm. While he grows hops, he also hopes to grow musicians who can at least open shows at the Constellation Brands Performing Arts Center, known as CMAC.

“We’re the farm team for CMAC,” he joked.

In the supply-and-demand discussion, panelists said selling and identifying local foods strengthens a growing industry. Silas Conroy, creator of local food processor Crooked Carrot, an Ithaca company that has been acquired by town of Ontario’s Headwater Food Hub, said the local food system is extremely complex and sometimes fragile.

“If you work with a local farmer, the supply can be endangered by a single weather event,” Conroy said.  That doesn’t always sit well with consumers who have grown used to having whatever food ingredients they want, year-round.  But he noted that value-added local food products (examples would be jams or pickles made from locally grown produce) are now as big as wheat, a major commodity, in the United States Department of Agriculture farm census.

While the panelists agreed that there isn’t a signature cuisine of the Finger Lakes, Simply Crepes’ Pierre Heroux said there are signature ingredients, such as maple syrup and butternut squash that the restaurant incorporates in its menu.

Choosing local wines, Heroux said, makes it possible to interact with the producers and bring them to the restaurant so customers can meet and appreciate them, too. That wouldn’t happen with national brands of wine out of California, he said.

“It’s a no-brainer to support your local farms,” he said. “I’d be an idiot if I didn’t have local products on my menu.”

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