Local Entrepreneur Bring Crepes, Food Cart to Downtown Corvallis
On a slightly cold day as the rain comes and goes at the Corvallis farmers market, the line for crepes is at times ten people long, all waiting for their taste of Paris. Michele Walker tends to the large crepe grill brought all the way from France, as she greets customers like they are her longtime friends.
The white camper converted to a food cart has a friendly window for customers to walk up to and order crepes to their liking. The menu is displayed on a chalk board with spring colors and flavors listed along with beverages, including coffee and Italian sodas. Customers order their crepes and then continue walking around the farmers market to pick out the freshest ingredients for their weeks meals. Walker, however, continues to serve crepes all morning with a smile on her face.
History Behind the Crepes
Two years ago, Walker and her fiancé, Francois Colomb, started selling sweet and savory crepes in a small pop-up tent using propane grills at the Corvallis and Albany Saturday and Wednesday farmers markets.
“Francois’ family always talked about opening a restaurant and envisioned a little creperie, but it was always a dream state,” Walker said. “They wanted to have a place that served food from home. When creating the business as a family didn’t work out, Francois and I decided to serve crepes at markets, an environment that was familiar to us.”
Walker and fiancé Francois Colomb are not only at farmers markets, but also cater events in the Corvallis area. As a duo, they prepare over 10 kinds of crepes for their loyal customers, including a simple lemon and sugar to savory seasonal crepes. The menu is always changing due to the change in fresh ingredients, but the most popular item on the menu seems to be the ham, cheese and egg crepe.
“We like to think of ourselves as Mediterranean influenced and northwest inspired,” Walker said. “All of our crepes are prepared fresh and we love getting feedback from our customers. They often have great ideas about ingredients to add to our existing menu items, which broadens our horizons.”
Walker remembers a time in particular when a customer ordered the salmon, sour cream and dill crepe. While enjoying it, the customer asked if they had ever considered serving it with capers. Shocked that he had not thought of this, Colomb quickly tried it, loved it and added it to the menu.
Francois Colomb was born in Paris, France but grew up in the city of Le Vigan, south of Paris. He always enjoyed cooking and sharing meals with his family because his family ran a campground where they prepared meals in a family style café. Although he has no formal culinary training, he did work in a couple of creperies in Paris in his late teens and early 20’s.
Walker was born in Portland, OR and was raised in Corvallis. She has a background in customer service and retail, but no formal culinary training. During the week, Walker works at the Starbucks inside Fred Meyer on Kings, brewing coffee and interacting with customers. Although she enjoys this job, she definitely prefers her weekend job because it allows her to be more creative and spend time with her fiancé.
The couple met in high school when Francois came to visit his mother, who had moved to Corvallis with her American husband. Walker remembers how every girl at Corvallis High School had a crush on him, including herself, but over 20 years later, Walker is the lucky one.
During the couple’s five year relationship, Walker saw how much making crepes meant to Francois and his family. As a journalism and advertising major at Linn Benton Community College, she also loved being in the kitchen and offered to handle the business side of things that needed to be taken care of for the creperie.
Not only is Mediterranean influenced French cuisine lacking in Corvallis, but so is the idea of food carts where chefs prepare the food in front of customers on a grill. This up and coming style of business tends to appeal to a younger generation, which Walker believes to be perfect for a college town like Corvallis.
In Corvallis, Walker has found it to be quite the opposite from the seriousness of food carts in New York. She has walked into local restaurants, asking for advice about what to add to her crepes to enhance the flavor or what would pair well with her smoked salmon, sour cream and dill crepe.
“Everyone that I have talked to has gladly helped me,” Walker said. “I am friends with a lot of the local business owners and they are always willing to share ideas about specific ingredients or how to make my menu better. It is very important to interact with other chefs in the local food business.”
Being so good at making connections, Walker has already made a deal with a local restaurant to pay them in order to use their restaurant as a water supply for when she opens up for business in the food cart, where she will have electricity and a generator to keep everything cold and running.
In five years, Walker hopes that Creperie Du Lys will become a permanent cafe, whether that means having a place of their own or sharing space with an existing downtown restaurant.
“Our longtime goal is to offer a sit down café in Corvallis, but for now, we are offering something that other restaurants don’t and enjoying it,” Walker said. “The sense of community is why I do what I do and making connections with customers is irreplaceable.”
A Conversation with OSU’s Top Cheese Expert, Lisbeth Goddik
Lisbeth Goddik first started making cheese in Denmark at age 19 and brought her talents to OSU twenty years ago, where she earned her PhD and now teaches cheese making classes to food and animal science majors. Last fall, the students started selling the cheese, which was named Beaver Classic from a competition held on campus to create a name and logo. The Beaver Classic and Swiss Classic are produced by the students so it is up to them regarding what they want to make and sell. Goddik hopes to see the department develop into one day producing award winning cheese.
Q: What kind of equipment is required to produce cheese?
A: I have purchased equipment from both the Netherlands and from France. We have a 240 gallon cheese vat from the Netherlands and I just ordered two bench scale cheese vats that will be manufactured in Oregon. Students are welcome to tour the creamery; however, we only offer this when no cheese is being made because of food safety risks.
A: Pasteurization is a two hour process, while the cheese making takes around three hours. The cheese presses overnight, followed by salting for 14 hours. The cheeses are washed for six weeks and then packaged and aged for another eight months.
Q: How many pounds of cheese are produced each week?
A: 200 pounds
Q: Why do you think that there has been a recent increase in the cheese and beer producing industries, especially in the Pacific Northwest?
A: I believe that people are becoming more interested in local food. It tastes better and people like supporting local family businesses. I think that the OSU cheese department has enhanced Oregon’s reputation for artisan cheese. Our department is just starting out, but I also give presentations in Oregon and other states.
Q: Are there any recent graduates that have pursued jobs in the cheese making industry?
A: Last year the following companies hired our students: Darigold Cheese, Tillamook Cheese, Rogue Creamery, Safeway Dairy, Horizon Dairy and Eberhard’s Dairy.
A: We sell the cheese online at oregonstate.edu/main/cheese, on Fridays from my office between 11am-1pm, and prior to home football games.
Goddik also offers a three day “Practical Introduction to Cheese making” class, which will be held on October 8-10, 2013. She explains that it is a very good class that targets people who want to start up artisan cheese companies.
In an article that I wrote for The Daily Barometer over a year ago, I discuss the options for eating on campus at Oregon State. Although the students that I interviewed have now graduated, they offer great advice for healthy eating.
For many students, trying to balance school, work, and social life, along with healthy eating can be challenging. Students and University Housing and Dining Services are educating and providing healthier choices, enabling students the opportunity to make smarter decisions when it comes to grabbing a snack on campus.
Erin Dooher and Michael Etzel are senior dietetics majors who are excited about nutrition and helping students understand complex concepts. The duo hosts a KBVR Radio Show that airs at 7 p.m. on Mondays called “Nutrition Now.”
“We are not specialists and we don’t tell people what to do,” Etzel said. “We are hoping to get students interested in nutrition so they can feel empowered and make healthful, constructive decisions to implement good eating habits.”
Etzel points out that places on campus, like Pangea Café in the MU, offer nutritional sheets in binders on tables and posters throughout the restaurant that were written by the Student Dietetics Association at Oregon State University, which is helpful when making decisions about what to order.
Dooher says that her top three healthy options to eat on campus include Pangea Café for veggie-based dishes, West Dining Center for cultural variety and Dixon Café for inexpensive wraps on whole wheat tortillas with brown rice.
“My advice to students looking to make healthy eating choices on campus is to choose lean meats like turkey or chicken and low-fat dairy products,” Dooher said. “If you’re vegetarian, eat lots of beans and my personal tip is to eat salad several times a week to keep your GI tract healthy.”
In the past couple of years, UHDS has made strides toward enhancing their vegetarian and gluten-free options, along with providing online menus containing nutritional facts, ingredients and allergy information, allowing students to make informed decisions about their meal choices.
When UHDS’s dietitian, Tara Sanders, is asked what foods are healthy in the dining centers, she responds by saying healthy diets are so varied that it depends on if “healthy” refers to vegetarian, foods packed with nutrients and low in calories, or Mediterranean foods that are plant based and rich in healthy oils.
“The truth is, all of these diets can be healthy,” Sanders said. “According to the USDA, a healthy diet is based on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, legumes, beans and vegetable protein sources as well as low-fat, calcium-rich options and we strive to weave these options into each restaurant.”
At Marketplace West, healthy options can be found in Ring of Fire’s Pho Soup or Curry Bowls made with brown rice and tofu, Tomassito’s vegetarian pizza on wheat crust, Cooper’s Creek Tofu Jambalaya and Clubhouse Deli’s roasted portabella vegetarian Panini on a whole grain roll.
“We want the healthy choice to be the easy choice and we strive to provide a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and calcium-rich options within each restaurant,” Sanders said. “Additionally, we strive to make the healthy choice affordable.”
Arnold Bistro also offers an expansive salad bar, fresh sushi and Japanese noodle bowls packed with vegetables. Bing’s Café in Weatherford offers whole wheat sandwich bread or calzinis with healthy toppings like marinated and grilled chicken, fresh spinach and sweet bell peppers.
“A few easy ways to make healthy choices at the dining centers include eating more fruits and vegetables, choosing whole grains and eating more plant-based proteins like beans, lentils, nuts and seeds,” Sanders said. “All foods can be part of a healthy diet; it is just moderation, balance and variety.”
To view nutritional information for food available at the dining centers, go to http://oregonstate.edu/uhds/eat.
And an OSU Dining Map can be found here.
Here is my Interview with Evelyn Hall, Manager of the North Corvallis First Alternative Co-Op…and pictures!