It’s a sunny Tuesday morning and we’re on the 5, headed toward Little Italy in downtown San Diego on a very important mission. You see, we’ve been invited to try out crepes from one of the city’s newest food trucks, and there are precious few missions more important than authentic French crepes hot off the griddle. Not that Little Italy is the first location that comes to mind when one thinks of authentic French crepes – but, then again, Crepes Bonaparte owners Christian and Danielle Murcia aren’t much for staying within boundaries, and it’s that drive that has turned a small operation into a burgeoning empire.
We catch up with Christian inside Pierre, the nickname for the second truck in the Crepes Bonaparte fleet. Pierre is tarted up with a mustache on the front and picture windows on the service side, lined with Nutella and open for customers to see the crepe-making action on the inside. As Christian tells it, the story behind Crepes Bonaparte a little different from many food truck origin stories – one built on impressions and experiences and the unique need to come up with an A-worthy business plan.
“My wife [business partner Danielle Murcia] and I had been to Paris, and saw the way crepes were being made over there,” says Christian, sharp in a vest, tie, and beret to complete the truck’s aesthetic. “I got my degree from USC in entrepreneurship, and we needed to do a senior business plan – it just kind of fell in line. We were like: let’s try this out, it’s kind of an underserved market here in the U.S. After doing a lot of research on it we realized that, hey, there really is a product that’s missing here in the U.S. There are creperies, but just no one doing it the way that you’re supposed to be doing it.”
Entrepreneurs by nature, the Murcias didn’t go into the crepe business lightly – they went hard with a catering service to support and fund the food truck side (and publicity from a stint on the first season of The Great Food Truck Race didn’t hurt, either) and make sure that the trucks they drive are the trucks of their dreams in ways that go way beyond twee mustaches.
“What kind of separated us, and why people are drawn to our truck is, that it’s custom made – it’s a little bit different than your average taco truck-style truck,” Christian explains. “We really did our research, in that part of the experience of eating a crepe is just that – the experience of being on the streets of France and seeing your food being made. So we custom imported crepe griddles from France and had the truck custom-laid out so that people can actually see their food being made. For a while we thought about looking into doing a restaurant, but we thought this fell more in line with what crepes actually are, which is street food.”
According to Christian, this decision not only lives up to the true spirit of crepes – it also keeps things more economical for both owners and customers alike. “You’ll find that our price point is probably $1-2 cheaper for entrees than most of the other food trucks, and we do a lot of traditional crepes like cinnamon sugar, lemon sugar, and ham and cheese crepes that can fit into any sort of budget.”
We sample one of those cinnamon sugar crepes and they don’t disappoint, light and airy with just enough filling to flavor without overwhelming. We continue to chat while Christian whips up a Wake-Me-Up Special Crepe stuffed with garlic pesto, mozzarella, and scrambled eggs. For most, a two-truck reign over Southern California would be enough to rest on – but Murcia’s attitude is anything but laissez-faire. Enter Curbside Bites, a food truck gathering business and another product of the couple’s entrepreneurial spirit.
“We started that because we were managing so many food truck gatherings in Orange County and Los Angeles that [we thought] this doesn’t really make sense to be running it under the same company and e-mailing people from Crepes Bonaparte,” he says. “So we started that as a separate company just to manage all the gatherings. We have someone who books them, so if you have a food truck gathering that you want to start up, you can contact them and they reach out to all of the 50+ trucks in San Diego.”
Running two trucks and organizing the lion’s share of food truck gatherings this side of the 101? That sounds like a lot to put on anyone’s plate, but it’s all in a day’s work. But as long as the crepes keep coming, it’s work that’s far from thankless.
[PHOTOGRAPHY by Noushin Nourizadeh]