The smell of newness has not worn off of a small crepe eatery in South Austin. It fights for attention against the scents of melting butter, sweet cheese and fresh fruit, which waft through the open kitchen into a dining room poised with romance and class.
At an expansive counter, a man and woman use American Sign Language to communicate with the cook. An oversized menu rests under a sign that reads “Point and Ye Shall Receive,” the simplest way for a customer to order a meal from the all-deaf staff.
The story of Crêpe Crazy is a story within many stories.
It is the story of a family of immigrants struggling to bring a dream to life in America. It is the story of food culture in Austin — the rise from food truck to brick-and-mortar restaurant, navigating a make-or-break culinary scene in a city that breeds food legends. And, most centrally, it is the story of a deaf-owned business, which has discovered taste as a universal language that transcends barriers to communication.
Vladimir and Inna Giterman hail from Russia and Ukraine, respectively. They moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1990 with their son, Sergei. Six years later, they arrived in Austin, where they had their first American-born daughter, Michelle.
Husband and wife toyed with business ideas in America, where they found it was possible for deaf people to start their own companies. They hosted parties with friends and cooked their beloved crepes, a time-honored recipe from Vladimir ’s mother, Evelina.
“She usually made small crepes called ‘blinis,’ ” Inna Giterman writes.
Not like the large crepes at Crêpe Crazy, stuffed with sweet delicacies like Nutella, brown sugar and caramel or the rich flavors of mozzarella, pesto and salted prosciutto.
Many of the recipes were adapted from travels throughout Europe and America as the Gitermans were formulating ideas for their crepe business. Their original flavors were ham and cheese, and Nutella and banana, which they sold out of a small food truck downtown beginning in 2007. They carted it around to festivals like South by Southwest and the Trail of Lights.
“People kept asking us if we had a physical spot,” Inna Giterman writes.
Their son found a posting on Craigslist for a site in Dripping Springs, and the family opened its first brick-and-mortar location there in 2014. Last month, they opened a second store in Austin.
The South Lamar location is quiet at lunchtime. The only sound is small murmurs between hand signs. Inna Giterman writes on a tablet that she’s not sure people know they’re here yet. Their Dripping Springs location is alive and bustling. But for Austin, they have a long way to go.
Inna Giterman was waiting on permits to open the outdoor porch and put up a lighted sign. Inside, the restaurant is pristine — white marble tables decorated with small sprigs of lavender, copper chairs and dome lighting, a handcrafted wine rack and an espresso machine from Italy, polished to a sparkling shade of clean.
Daughter Michelle Giterman remarks they hired a professional designer, and most of the interior furniture was custom made.
On the menu, the family added fresh cheeses and seasonal soup, along with handmade desserts and New World gelato. The orange juice is squeezed in house, and the beer comes from local brewers (512) Brewing Company, Thirsty Planet and Real Ale Brewing Company.
“Austin has supported us with many loyal customers,” Michelle Giterman writes. “We strongly believe in supporting local businesses.”
And they strongly believe in supporting the local deaf community.
All of their contractors, electricians, chefs and staff are deaf.
“We hire deaf people, because they have a hard time getting a job out there,” Michelle Giterman writes. “We know they are as talented as anyone. And it’s really nice for us to be able to communicate with our workers without worrying about any communication barriers.
“It’s a win-win situation for all of us.”
Michelle Giterman admits it was a struggle at first to work in service without the ease of speaking to customers. They had to adapt with number systems, tablets and large signage, but she says that the city and the people who live here were more than accommodating.
“Austin is too good to be true,” she writes.
When asked if it bothers them to be labeled a “deaf-owned business,” the Giterman family says “no.” The Gitermans are proud of their success and the strides they have made within Austin’s food community, coming from no restaurant experience and learning as they go.
For Vladimir and Inna, they say they’ve reached their goal. It is up to their children now to expand the business they created and provide more opportunities for the deaf in Austin.
Henry Prince III works in the Austin kitchen and is hearing-impaired. On a Friday morning, he cooks Michelle Giterman’s favorite crepe, pouring the batter in a circle on a pan and sprinkling it with brown sugar and cinnamon. He folds it in half and spreads caramel sauce inside then cuts slices of banana and folds it into a triangle, slathering it with butter. After the crepe cooks for a minute, he slides it on a plate, dusts it with powdered sugar, adds a dollop of whipped cream and drizzles it with caramel sauce.
“It tastes like French toast,” Michelle Giterman says, as she sits across from her mother, father and brother, who take their morning coffee at noon.
She points out that from the front of the restaurant, you can see the Capitol building. She has an admitted love affair with Austin. It is a city that has given so much to her in her 24 years and so much to her parents, whose small Russian crepes have added richness to the taste of their beloved city.
Where: 3103 S. Lamar Blvd.
Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday
Where: 660B W. U.S. 290
Hours: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday