ORGULLO LATINOReading time: 4 minutes
How Colombia's most popular restaurant chain became a source of inspiration for young Latino entrepreneurs – all while serving delicious food made with local ingredients.
When I tell foreigners that I'm going to take them to the most Colombian restaurant in the country, they're usually surprised to discover it's Crepes & Waffles.
When the restaurant opened in 1980, no one thought it'd become the country's most popular food chain; or that we'd take as much pride in it as we do in our national soccer team.
Crepes (as we call it colloquially) is the passion-fueled dream of two university students, Beatriz Fernández and Eduardo Macía, who started the company in a converted garage in Bogotá.
Their bet on crepes and waffles was left field, even in the capital. And although they did moderately well in the early days, the turning point came when an abuela complained about the quality of the waffles. To help them out (so the story goes), she shared her recipe, before vanishing without a trace like a true guardian angel.
The mysterious abuela's recipe is still what's used today and it has helped the business boom: within a few years, Crepes opened new restaurants in the capital before expanding into other cities.
Crepes & Waffles' secret ingredient
From the beginning, Crepes & Waffles has taken creative liberties with the concept of crepes. Its menu is known for blending international flavors with local ingredients that expand on Colombia's rich culinary heritage.
The Thai chicken crêpe, for instance, gives the taste buds a tangy twist of passion fruit in the curry base. There are also unabashedly Colombian items like the sombrero vueltiao crêpe, named after the traditional hat and stuffed with shredded beef, hogao sauce, and sweet plantain.
But it's not just about flavors. Crepes carefully chooses where it gets these ingredients to support communities affected by violence and poverty. For example, the chain "is dedicated to converting cacao, vanilla and other products into the new currency of change for peace", according to an article in El País.
Take the seasonal Montes de María menu, which sources different crops from small farmers in a region historically victimized by the 52-year-long armed conflict. The arrangement gives people a stable income.
The cherry on top? For every item ordered from the seasonal menu, Crepes & Waffles also plants a tree in the area's dry tropical forest, one of the country's most endangered ecosystems.
The company is also known for employing single moms who are heads of households and offer benefits such as health care and housing aid.
"The secret to the hold Crepes & Waffles has on the hearts of Colombianos is its commitment to causes beyond its restaurants," says Tatiana Arias, a foodie based in Bogotá.
When we eat at Crepes, we feel like we're helping our community – how often can food give you that feeling?
Inspiring young Latino entrepreneurs
Early this year, a war broke out on Twitter over the (admittedly) absurd queues at nearly all Crepes & Waffles locations. In March, a well-known fashion journalist, La Pesada de Moda, posted a photo at 8am showing a queue that was dozens of people long.
But this doesn't mean people are getting fed up with the restaurant. In fact, the opposite is true.
People are still willing to wait an hour (or more) just for the pleasure of having the mushroom, chicken, and cheese crêpe, followed by an Alaskan ice-cream cup. They're also ready to jump down the virtual throat of anyone who badmouths the chain with the passion of soccer fans defending their team.
Maybe it's because, for so long, Crepes was one of the few things we seemed to get right, something we could point to whenever people reduced us to Pablo Escobar and his activities. Like Shakira, coffee and emeralds, Crepes & Waffles proved that we were much more – that we had ingenuity, creativity, and work ethic.
The restaurant is the perfect underdog success story and a symbol of our entrepreneurial spirit ready to thrive. Relative peace has opened the way for young entrepreneurs armed with dreams and a story to grab onto: if two students working from a garage can do it, anyone can.
Over 40 years after opening, Crepes & Waffles is here to stay. Thankfully. Because a Colombia without Crepes would feel like a Colombia without empanadas or chocolate santafereño. I don't even want to imagine it.
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