Deaf-owned Crêpe Crazy business speaks the universal language of food

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.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Austin360 Eats

Original 'Kiss Me, Kate' star Patricia Morison dead at 103
Original 'Kiss Me, Kate' star Patricia Morison dead at 103

Patricia Morison, who played the shrewish lead role in the 1948 Cole Porter Broadway musical “Kiss Me, Kate,” died Sunday, Variety reported. She was 103.  Morison also appeared on stage with Yul Brynner in “The King and I” and starred in films such as “The Song of Bernadette.” She also appeared as Basil...
Emmylou Harris takes the long view of a storied career in first of two Paramount nights
Emmylou Harris takes the long view of a storied career in first of two Paramount nights

Emmylou Harris performed at the Paramount on Saturday, May 19, and will return for a second show on Sunday, May 20. Peter Blackstock/American-Statesman Midway through her concert Saturday at the Paramount Theatre, Emmylou Harris made a reference to bucket lists but acknowledged hers is basically nonexistent. There’s...
This week’s music picks: Blues on the Green, Hot Luck Fest and more
This week’s music picks: Blues on the Green, Hot Luck Fest and more

[youtube=] Tuesday: David Crosby at Paramount Theatre. Given that he’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it might come as a slight surprise that last year’s “Sky Trails” was just Crosby’s sixth solo album. Of course...
Meghan Markle's rescue dog, Guy the beagle, goes from shelter pup to royal pet
Meghan Markle's rescue dog, Guy the beagle, goes from shelter pup to royal pet

A new member of the royal family is making headlines – and no, we're not talking about Meghan Markle. According to the Guardian, a beagle named Guy was in a Kentucky kill shelter until Ontario-based A Dog's Dream Rescue saved him and offered him for adoption at a 2015 event in Canada. That's where he met his new owner, Markle, who went on...
Royal wedding: Kitty Spencer stuns with resemblance to her aunt, Princess Diana
Royal wedding: Kitty Spencer stuns with resemblance to her aunt, Princess Diana

Bride Meghan Markle wasn't the only one turning heads at Saturday's royal wedding. Many fans of the royals said Lady Kitty Spencer, niece of the late Princess Diana and daughter of Earl Charles Spencer, Diana's brother, looked just like her famous aunt. According to the New York Daily News, the 27-year-old model wore a forest green Dolce & Gabbana...
More Stories