Jill Barton’s grandmother taught her how to make crepes when she was growing up in Geneva, Switzerland.
“It was the first thing I learned how to cook, and that’s why I opened up a crepe shop,” Barton said.
Barton was obsessed with a French children’s book titled Biboundé. Biboundé was the smallest of penguins who always wanted to fly. The book depicted Biboundé’s mother making crepes for her son in a frying pan, just as Barton’s grandmother did for her.
“The penguin’s favorite thing to do was watch his mom make crepes, just how my grandmother used to make them by flipping them in the pan as high as you can,” she said.
Biboundé travels everywhere with Barton, even to the crepe shop she opened last Saturday called Le Crepe Shoppe at 15 Gutierrez St., next to the Santa Barbara Roasting Company and Chocolate Maya. She said she made about 80 crepes on the first day.
”It is absolutely a dream come true,” Barton said. “There were lots of sleepless nights, but right now I’m sleeping pretty good.”
“I was never a good student in high school, and I didn’t like studying, but suddenly I go to culinary school and I’m at the top of my class and it was amazing,” she said. “The chefs I had were very passionate and dedicated, and I am still in contact with them.”
The chefs nicknamed the class the cloning class because, Barton said, they wished they could have cloned the students. In fact, one of her classmates opened a restaurant that just earned recognition as the top-ranking restaurant in Hawaii.
After graduating in 2005, Barton traveled via yacht as a private chef while visiting Florida, the Caribbean, the Panama Canal and Tahiti.
Several months ago she purchased a section of what once was a part of the Santa Barbara Art Frame Gallery. Customers walk into the door and can watch the entire cooking process from start to finish.
She said the most popular crepe has been the Nutella and banana. Barton chops one banana into pieces spanning about an inch on a counter behind the bar. She brings the banana and Nutella next to the large circular burner, where she spreads her grandmother’s recipe of “sweet” batter. She uses a thin and long cylindrical wooden tool to evenly spread the batter around the skillet, which she flips with two wooden spatulas after about 30 seconds. She then places the bananas on half of the crepe along with a healthy scoop of Nutella before she butters the crepe, folds the corners in and finishes it with powdered sugar. It takes no longer than a minute.
Whether it’s in a frying pan or a stationary circular burner, “it’s all in the wrist,” Barton said.
“When you put the batter on, you have to twist it just the right way so it spreads evenly and quick enough so it doesn’t stick to the wood,” she sadi. “I think it’s harder to flip a crepe on this than it is on a pan. That was my favorite thing, looking at my grandma flipping the crepes as high as she could.”
Barton’s grandmother inspired her to open the shop — in fact, it was her grandmother’s dream. She described her as someone she shared a bond with who was almost closer than her parents. Her grandmother’s trust fund and the money she saved up from cooking at sea helped her open Le Crepe Shoppe.
Barton cooked a banana and Nutella crepe as a young girl eagerly awaited her sweet treat, her face pressed against the glass separating the customers from her cooking station.
“I want to make it personal and let them see everything I do,” she said. “These little kids were running around here, climbing on chairs and pressing their face against the glass for the third time in the six days I have been open. I don’t want to hide in the back of the kitchen. That’s no fun.”
Barton offers sweet and savory crepe batters. Sweet items include lemon and sugar, chocolate, jams, honeys, strawberry and cream. Savory options include ham and cheese, smoked salmon, roast beef and goat cheese, to name a few. She is working on gluten-free and vegan recipes.
Most importantly, the food is sourced from local farmers and is all organic, Barton said.
“I like to go to Farmers Market and get all my organic food from there, either that or from ‘The Berry Man,’” she said. “I try to be eco-friendly and support local businesses as much as possible.”
Her business has been well-received by the community, with customers coming in excited to see her “finally make it,” after city legislation lengthened the process.
“I’m so excited you are open finally,” one customer said. “I’ve been waiting for the store to open for a couple months now.”
Another customer told Noozhawk that he had traveled to France and fell in love with crepes. Barton’s tasted very similar, he said, “which is a good thing.”
Barton said the savory items have been more popular and that she plans to add salads to the dishes to round out the meals.
“There’s such good produce in this region that it would be a shame to pay lower money for lower quality,” she said. “People in Santa Barbara like fresh, organic food and deserve the best.”
Barton serves chocolate crepes and chocolate drinks made with sweets provided by Barton’s aunt, Maya Schoop, next door. She said that what people don’t know about her niece is that she is an extremely hard worker.
“I actually love her like my own daughter,” Schoop said.
Barton credits her aunt for the opportunity to start her own business from scratch.
“She’s an inspiration and always has been,” Barton said. “I wouldn’t have been here if it wasn’t for her support. We’re a very tight family.”
Barton said she learned that not every small business succeeds. Her chefs from culinary school said that half of the restaurants closed within the first year of opening in San Francisco.
“It’s a tough business,” she said. “You are in there everyday, all day long, and you get burned, you cut yourself. People don’t expect this much work and level of commitment, and I think that’s why a lot fail.”
But Schoop wasn’t worried.
“No one works harder than she does, and that’s really important,” she said. “I’m sure she will do really good.”
Barton said she strives to make her grandmother proud and eventually plans to expand, but the ultimate goal is much more simple — to raise spirits by appeasing people’s palates.
“I want to make people happy,” she said. “Everyone is happier when they eat something they like.”