Crepe Customers Company's Eagerly Taking The Cakes.

FORT LAUDERDALE | Wednesday, November 01, 2006

For two hours, Christopher Hoffman labors behind two hot burners, making crepe after crepe for a line that never falls bellow 10 people, all of them hungry. Hoffman, also known as The Crepe maker, has-been hired by developer Craig Perry for a pool side catering job at newly opened Park Place at Wyndham Lakes in Coral Springs. He knows he's both the nourishment and the entertainment and it has to show. Hoffman greets every crepe order with a grin and a "great!" It takes 57 seconds for him to prepare, wrap and hand over a freshly prepared pocket, filled with a variety of meats and cheeses, vegetables and sauces. "The kids like to time me," says Hoffman, smoothly building crepe after crepe with never wasted movement. For one guest, it's Caesar chicken; for the next, it's chocolate cheesecake. Hoffman and his wife, Maria Sue, are co-owners of the business. In addition to catering, the Crepemaker has two permanent Miami sites. Pinecrest, at 8269 SW 124th street and a cart in the courtyard of Cocowalk , Coconut Grove. Like many in the food business, Hoffman and Sue are looking to franchise. They envision crepe carts everywhere from beaches to ski slopes, along with the more typical malls and cafes. They're pitching crepes as quickly prepared, yet healthier alternative to the usual fast-food fare. On the surface, they know the business looks easy - a few burners, a few veggies and sauces, and you're cooking .- But after three years in the competitive food business, they know otherwise. It's not easy putting together a crepe station that's portable and still meets city code. Or building a word-of-mouth business in the competitive catering market. Or finding a person who can work fast and smile while people wait for their food and bake in the Miami summer sun. That's why Hoffman still does most of the work, rising up at 4 a.m. to chop ingredients and prepare batches of crepe mixture. Sue books the catering and takes care of the business end in addition to her work as a real estate agent Four employees help with preparation , setup and serving. The couple have three children. Like most, it's an involving business with a few bumps along the way. The biggest problem: finding reliable employees. Some weren't fast enough, others had the wrong attitude, many weren't honest when it came to the cash at the end of the day. "That's been our biggest problem," said Sue "but we have a great crew now."

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