Stuffed Crepes and Waffles
photos by Zach Hoffman, by Jessica Lewis
Though creperies originated in Brittany, the northwestern region of France famous for its rain and a slew of lovely edibles, creperies have popularized around the world, including our quaint town of Bozeman. Erik Esper has brought a little piece of France to the downtown scene with his restaurant Stuffed Crepes and Waffles, offering a wide selection of sweet and savory delights in crepe or waffle form.
French for pancakes, crepes belong to the longstanding culinary family that includes a variety of flat breads cooked on a griddle. In the U.S., cousins and siblings of crepes include flapjacks, hotcakes and cornmeal Johnny cakes. Crepes can be found in a multitude of other varieties around the world. Crepes contain far less flour than typical pancakes - the batter is thin, cooks quickly and makes paper-thin pancakes. Each crepe is handspun and made fresh for every order.
You might notice that Stuffed doesn’t serve the traditional American-style Belgian waffle but rather one in a peculiar rectangle shape. One notable difference between the American-style Belgian waffle and the Brussels waffle is the use of baking powder versus yeast, giving it a different texture and taste. Brussels waffles are a balancing act - the right level of hydration allows the batter to spring to life in the iron, creating an exquisitely light and crispy exterior with tender, fluffy interior.
Jessica Lewis: How was Stuffed conceptualized? How did this place come about?
Erik Esper: Prior to living in Bozeman, I lived in Whitefish for 10 years and there was a little crepe shop there. I used to love going to it, and I live a pretty hectic life so I like the fast-paced breakfast; I don’t always have time to sit down and eat. I love starting businesses; it’s a passion of mine. I love seeing businesses come to conception and whether I hang onto it, sell it or franchise it, I love the birthing of companies. This is my fourth business I’ve helped start in Bozeman in 3 years. When I saw the space come available, I jumped on it. Just because I know Main Street spaces go so quick, and I wanted to be on Main Street. I met with the owner and we worked something out but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in here at the time. I went back to thinking about Whitefish and that niche that was there with the crepes. I wanted to bring that here and to an elevated sense but also offer waffles too. Crepes and waffles are prominently more popular in European and central South American countries. I love crepes and waffles, and I feel like there is a need for what we have going on in Bozeman.
JL: Tell me a little about yourself. What made you want to get into the restaurant industry?
EE: I have been in the restaurant industry on and off for 20 years. My stepdad was in the restaurant industry and I just fell into it at a young age. I started with bussing and washing dishes and worked my way up. I started working for an Italian chop house in Detroit, and I worked there for 3 years and loved it. Then there was this passion arising in me for food and mainly people and offering this hospitality side of things. Just like with your personal chef business, you’re with people. My business is broken into threes: people, food and social media, unfortunately. I went from there and applied at the Ritz Carlton and there was a new chef there who was trained under Thomas Keller, and he took over the Ritz Carlton in Detroit. He brought me on as an apprentice, and I worked with him for 3 years. I transferred to the Ritz Carlton Phoenix, and moved to Arizona to go to school for Architecture and Interior Design; that’s where I kind of veer off from the restaurant path a little bit. Then I worked for Marriot Organization for 6 years total. I’ve done every facet of the restaurant industry, from general manager, executive chef, owner, dishwasher and busboy; over the years I’ve worked in them all. Over the years, it’s something I’ve always found myself going back to because I love people and I love food.
JL: What makes Stuffed unique in the Bozeman? What do you offer that other places don’t?
EE: Stuffed is very unique in Bozeman, I feel, because we are a very niche market and kind of isolate ourselves by only offering two forms of a meal. Crepes or waffles. This has helped set us apart because that is all we do, and I feel we do it really well. There’s other places that offer crepes, we just offer the larger and more traditional 16-inch round crepes and Brussels style waffles. Mainly other places do a more round, Belgian style waffle but we do a more refined 4x7 Brussels style waffle.
JL: What do you want people to experience here when they step through your doors?
EE: I want their spirits to be lifted. Half of what we offer is sweet selections, which is essentially dessert for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert or anytime. We have the ability and job to make people’s lives happier. That’s what I tell my employees: When people come in here we have the ability to lift their spirits through food and connect with them on a human level and interact but also through a food level by giving them something that’s unique and hopefully visually as tasty as it is on the inside. When they eat it with their eyes and then with their mouth, their spirits are lifted. There’s something about food that really draws people together and builds relationships. That’s why I love the restaurant industry.
JL: What do you enjoy most about being part of Bozeman?
EE: I love the community of Bozeman and seeing the vast majority of Bozeman rallying around different nonprofits and causes. It’s a very active community, which I love, and it just breathes a lot of life. There’s some places you go to where there’s people there but not necessarily life in the people. Bozeman is a place where there is life in people, in all facets of life, genders, demographics and ages. The area that we live in with the mountains, skiing, influx of tourism, and the Yellowstone National Park; there’s this freshness and life that just continuously comes and goes.
JL: What’s your most popular dish?
EE: Our most popular sweet dish is called the Brittany. We named it the Brittany because of the farm in France where a lot of strawberries are grown. IIt’s kind of a spinoff of the most traditional crepe, which is bananas and Nutella. The biggest savory seller is the Vermont; we call it the Vermont because we use sharp white cheddar, bacon, tomatoes, a cracked egg and a lot of people love it with maple syrup. My favorite though is the Cusco or the Rio, bananas and peanut butter and caramel is where I lean towards. The Florina, for the savory, has a cracked egg, spinach, roasted bell peppers, swiss cheese and pesto.
The savory crepes, such as the Vermont - served with a cracked egg, bacon, tomatoes, and sharp white cheddar, will likely appeal to the protein seeker, while those with a sweet tooth may prefer the Brittany, served with strawberries and bananas, drizzled with Nutella, and dusted with confectioner’s sugar. Customers can also create their own waffle dream with a wide selection of toppings including marshmallow, fudge sauce, peanut butter and local Béquet caramel sauce. Genuine Ice Cream, Spindrift sodas and local Coldsmoke Coffee and Townsends Tea are available. Are you gluten free? Have no fear, because they offer gluten free crepes and waffles that are fantastic and they are more than happy to accommodate any dietary restrictions.
Stuffed Crepes and Waffles is located in the space next to the Country Bookshelf formerly occupied by the Tonsorial Parlor Barber Shop. Erik renovated the 400-square-foot space and spruced it up with a warm, modern and inviting feel for customers. There is seating out front and in the entryway where current SLAMfest artists’ work decorates the walls. The restaurant is designed for easy, to-go ordering and provides a comfortable place for patrons to sit and enjoy their internationally-inspired fare. Stuffed Crepes and Waffles is open daily from 7:00 am - 3:30 pm.