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Crêpeaffaire’s founder inspired by his childhood to make the “humble crepe” a global brand

Written by Zen Terrelonge on Monday, 17 December 2018. Posted in Interviews

Following his taste for French culture, Daniel Spinath created Crêpeaffaire, the crepe restaurant franchise, which has seen the pioneering pancake purveyor catering to countries beyond the UK

Crêpeaffaire’s founder inspired by his childhood to make the “humble crepe” a global brand

Once responsible for food and beverage with Regent International Hotels, Daniel Spinath has been on a broad workplace journey ever since. From hospitality to finance, consumer goods to TV and onwards to travel, he put his experience to good use and founded his own eating empire – Crêpeaffaire. “[I’m] a foodie at heart and I grew up spending most of my holidays in France, so I was very much exposed to crepes,” says Spinath of his inspiration. “That was when I was much younger. I’ve always loved crepes and was really part of the whole French culture.” He didn’t know it then but that childhood memory would stick with him and shape his life decades later.

After clocking up time working at Citi, Procter & Gamble, Viacom and Eurotunnel, the trigger to leap out of the corporate frying pan and into the entrepreneurial fire came as Spinath realised he desired forging a company of his own. “I wanted to do something myself and the thought about crepes was really that it can be something that’s not just a mum and pop business,” he reasons. “And quite frankly, in a very fragmented industry, [crepes] required a system and a brand.” From that point, the target was to take the “humble crepe” and transform it into a quick service restaurant that had the legs to scale.

The first Crêpeaffaire opened in London back in 2005 and it’s fair to say that dining habits and the average guest have changed drastically since then. “There’s been a major shift in food and eating behaviours with consumers in the UK,” opines Spinath. “There’s a lot more grazing [and a] shortage of time people have for eating, so traditional mealtimes such as breakfast, lunch and dinner have shifted into people eating at all points of the day.” 

He realised how modern consumers crave knowledge of the ingredients in their food and how healthy it is. This presented a need to provide transparency as well as variety. “Crêpeaffaire isn’t just [for] dessert,” Spinath declares. “We serve a range of products that can cater to breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in-between because we offer sweet and savoury.” And with each meal being prepared in front of the customers using organic flour and natural ingredients, Crêpeaffaire’s visitors can see what they’re getting. “You can indulge yourself responsibly but on the basis you obviously don’t ask for a triple helping of Nutella,” he laughs, explaining how the business differentiates itself.

Despite operating with what is arguably a niche cuisine, having no direct competition didn’t make things easier. While McDonald’s has a clear rival in Burger King, being the first to venture into the specialist sweet and savoury sector meant he had to compete with the rest of the high street for customers and not just one other eatery. “I think everyone is your competition in the food market because there’s so much on offer,” says Spinath. “We compete with a salad bar, a Pret, with a Mars bar or ice-cream because we’re so versatile in our offering. You just need to stand out.”

Satisfied that the model was working in the face of endless eateries entering the market, Spinath decided the next move should be to franchise the business in 2012 when Crêpeaffaire reached six company-owned stores. “We said we have a company which is growing but we want to grow faster and go into places that we wouldn’t be able to currently control ourselves [because they’re] too far out from our London-centric approach,” he details.

As Spinath developed the model, he discovered how having a franchisee owning a piece of the brand and managing contractual obligations were the most taxing elements of the evolution. “How do you communicate, how do you get things done and how do you integrate the things you’ve learned from your own company into a franchise network?” he says. “How do you get those through to a franchisee knowing they may also have their way of doing things? It requires a different approach in communication.”

Nevertheless, these challenges didn’t keep him from opening Crêpeaffaire’s first franchise in Cardiff, which was a long way from the English capital but still a valuable location that would help the brand achieve the desired scale. A presence in the Welsh city secured Crêpeaffaire the attention of other interested parties from further afield. “We then became more known and that’s when we had international organisations come to us,” says Spinath. “And that’s really been the driving force for us internationally.” Indeed, the business has franchisees in The Netherlands, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia by collaborating with food enterprises and master franchisees. “We tend to look at much larger master franchise organisations who have the capability to take on a cluster of those [franchises] and they could be individuals or professional organisations,” he adds.

However, whether they hail from Britain or abroad, there are key ingredients aspiring franchisees must possess to become part of Crêpeaffaire’s network. “When we look at franchisees, one of the criteria we look for [is] experience in retail,” says Spinath. He notes that a good feel for the location and property opportunities is also key, as well as them being a people person. “But the most important factor is really attitude and passion,” the franchisor reveals. “An individual franchisee who comes from a different industry needs to understand and be ready to face the reality of food retail, which is very unpredictable, very detail-orientated.”

This attitude enabled Crêpeaffaire to easily make a success of its first venture abroad – into Kuwait – in 2015. “It’s fair to say we’d been focusing on the Middle East because there’s a great propensity by the Middle Eastern consumer base to consume our type of products,” says Spinath, highlighting how significant the infrastructure there is. From Kuwait, the franchise entered the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia, none of which were too dissimilar from the UK sites. “What was initially different is we had to look into what consumer behaviour is in those foreign countries,” he notes.

That meant reviewing what was transferrable from the UK to Kuwait, how things can be exported and how vastly products and palates need to be taken into consideration. “Why I’m saying it wasn’t that different is because right from the beginning we set up a very intense training programme for these franchisees to come over to the UK to learn how we do things but also to really create a bond to understand how we need to adjust the brand and products to local territories,” he continues. “When we launched in Kuwait, I think we prepared ourselves extremely well for that move.”

With 2019 on the way, Crêpeaffaire is cooking up even more goodies for the future as the franchise looks to set sail for the US. However, this will be done with a company-owned model first in order to solidify the firm’s position, just as it did in the UK before franchising. “It’s a very strong market economically,” says Spinath explaining the attraction to America. “Casual dining is a lot more difficult right now but once you have success in the US, it’s fairly easy to scale quite quickly. That’s the culture of the American society – once you get something which works, it’s a fairly business-friendly environment.”

Emphasising the ambitions for conquering the States with his crepe concept, Spinath says: “If you look at the coffee market pre-Starbucks, there weren’t any big branded systematic coffee chains in the US but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a big coffee market in the US,” he says. “Sometimes you just need to run for it and show what can be done.” That, coupled with a master franchisee agreement secured with TRG Concessions, a division of The Restaurant Group, which will see Crêpeaffaire sites opened up in airports across the UK, makes it seem evident the food franchise looks clear for take-off. 

About the Author

Zen Terrelonge

Zen Terrelonge

As editor, Terrelonge can be found on the hunt for all things startup and scaleup – that's when he's not busy talking babies via DADult Life. Whether it's health or hospitality, food or philanthropy, tech or travel, he'll be seeking out the most interesting entrepreneurial developments to run in the magazine and online.

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