"Can I chop strawberries while we do this?" asks Torya Blanchard, as I perch on the single stool in the hallway behind her downtown shop.
How could I dare say no – and why would I want to stop her? For just about two months, Blanchard's strawberries, blueberries, pineapples, nutella and powdered sugar – along with their savory counterparts like borsain cheese, mushrooms, spinach and ham – have been the talk of downtown.
Or rather, the ever-so-thin pancake package the delicious toppings are wrapped in have been all the buzz.
At her crepe stand, Good Girls Go to Paris Crepes
, for about five bucks, Blanchard and her merry band of crepe-makers will create you one of her 20 delectable crepes, hot off the griddle, made in a space barely big enough for two to stand, let alone cook.
Which brings me back to the stool. While interviewing her, I watch her hypnotically chopping, pausing only to make a crepes for a remarkably steady stream of customers for a mid-day Monday.
There's the downtown worker – a suburban resident who says that she's taking her crepe to Belle Isle for lunch – and a camo-cladded young man who apparently wants a crepe post-urban exploration of the Metropolitan Building. Blanchard is clearly not amused, but crepes him up nonetheless.
Blanchard was a French teacher at Consortium College Preparatory High School but got an itch to do something else. "This has been in the making for about two years – I liked teaching but I wanted to do something else," she says. "And I love France, love French … and remembered the crepes!"
About a year ago, Blanchard's husband bought her a crepe maker she has affectionately named Etienne. She mused setting up a mobile cart at Eastern Market – something she still plans to do – but spied what ultimately became the future home of Good Girls after a spinning class at the nearby Boll Family YMCA one day.
The 48-square feet space is small, to put it generously. "It's just big enough to make you really claustrophobic with the door shut," laughs Blanchard. A gas line, prep cooler and sink were installed. Add one Etienne, and Blanchard was ready to go.
So far, business has been good. "I've been pleasantly surprised," she says. "And I haven't had to dress up as a crepe and walk up and down Woodward to get people to come here!"
For the 30-year-old, born and bred Detroiter, opening anywhere but in the city proper was not an option. "Yes, it would have succeeded instantly in Ferndale or Royal Oak, but that's not the point," says Blanchard. "This is a French city, and I think we need to be known for crepes."
For Detroiters not familiar with the French treat, Good Girls' menu provides a primer. On the Right – or sweet – Bank, there's the simple Seine, with butter and sugar (Blanchard's daily breakfast, she admits) and the tart Melinda, with lime and brown sugar. The Snyder is a mélange of fruits, and the Katie re-creates an apple pie.
To Blanchard's pleasant surprise, a full half of the crepes she sells hail from the Left – or savory – Bank of her menu. The most-popular Allison combines hummus, hot sauce, spinach and herbes de Provence cheese, while the Rose is a simple blend of mozzarella, tomato and basil drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette.
Aside from crepes, she sells fair trade organic coffee for a buck a cup, and that's about it.
She does plan to complicate things a bit by adding an enclosed patio for the coming colder temperatures. Plus, Etienne will make the move to Eastern Market's Shed 2 when Blanchard gets a double griddle for her John R spot.
Yes, she'll be busy, but she wouldn't have it any other way. "It's nice to be a little uncomfortable," she says.
Now that Blanchard has taken the plunge into entrepreneurship, she says there's no turning back. "You have to ask yourself, 'Who am I living for?'" she says. She acknowledges that "a bi-weekly check or a sense of security" may be missed, but says, "You're only young once, might as well see how it works!"
Blanchard encourages anyone thinking about opening a business to go for it: "The hardest part of opening a business – it's not the money – is taking a leap of faith."
So what's with the name, anyway? Watch Torya in action and see for yourself in this video from Model D video producer Tom Hendrickson
Good Girls Go To Paris Crepes is located at 2 John R, just east of Woodward. Walk-up orders only. Hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday.
Blanchard will be one of a panel of new business owners at the next Open City
meeting, along with Model D writer/bike shop owner Kelli B. Kavanaugh, to be held at 6 p.m. Oct. 21 at Cliff Bell's.
Kelli B. Kavanaugh is Development News writer for Model D. Send feedback here
All photographs by Marvin Shaouni
Marvin Shaouni is the managing photographer for Metromode & Model D.