Daniel Spinath, founder and chief executive of Crepeaffaire, talks with Jo Bruce about cinema sites in Saudi Arabia, savoury waffles, cocktails and being an entertainment company.

It is now 15 years since Daniel Spinath opened his first Crepeaffaire site in London, inspired by the crepes he used to enjoy on family holidays to France as a child.

Today Crepeaffaire has grown to an estate of 16 UK stores (11 company-owned sites and five franchises) and five international sites: Haarlem in the Netherlands, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and three in Kuwait.

Following £2m of investment from BGF early last year Crepeaffaire has a busy openings plan both in the UK and internationally, with four to five UK sites to be delivered for 2019, including its recent return to Westfield Shepherds Bush.

Next opening is St Albans, located in the town’s market place, due to open in late May/early June, with this large site featuring a classic Crepeaffaire offer on the ground floor and “lifestyle activities” on the first floor.

Entertainment focus

The company is increasingly focusing on customer experience with plans to introduce a number of new initiatives in-store to make visits more entertaining for guests.

This includes a new digital ordering system, which will make ordering faster as well as more entertaining and engaging for customers.

Crepeaffaire has an openings plan of around five to six stores per year over the next few years in the UK and is working on a number of ideas for concessions.

Spinath says the company’s target opening locations are opportunity led, but he still sees lots of development opportunities for the brand in and around central and Greater London, including Greenwich and Windsor.

Also, there are opportunities in university market towns and cities such as Cheltenham, Oxford and Bath. In the north, Manchester is among the key areas for a store.

Currently, the brand’s biggest sites for covers are in London’s Old Spitalfields Market and Westfield Shepherd’s Bush. However, Spinath says the company is looking not only at sites of up to 1,500 sq ft but also at larger ones of 4,000 to 5,000 sq ft.

A flying start

Crepeaffaire’s first airport site at Luton, in partnership with The Restaurant Group Concessions, opened in December 2018 and Spinath says it is doing “exceptionally well”, with the company looking to open further airport sites with TRG over the next couple of years.

For this Luton airport site a new operational quick serve format, including new processes and kit that significantly accelerate the speed of production and service, has been introduced. Spinath says: “It allows us to be in much higher footfall, lower dwell time operations and still do very good turnover to accommodate the peak of demand you get at travel hubs, but without losing sight of the need for theatre and the transparency of fresh production.”

Internationally the company is continuing to expand through franchises and is proactively looking for more partners in the Netherlands, where it already has one site, with another two to three openings planned for this year.

Cinema concessions

In Saudia Arabia, where the company already has a site in the capital, major development plans for the region have been reenergised after some halts and the company will open its first cinema concession in Jeddah in June, with two further mall openings planned for July.

Spinath says: “Cinemas are new in Saudia Arabia – they had been banned for 35 years until last April. This opening is the first of quite a few planned cinema openings, working with Fawaz Alhokair Group, the largest retailer in the region.”

Crepeaffaire is also targeting the USA for expansion through joint venture sites, focusing on the East Coast, West Coast and parts of Texas.

The company, which now employs 150 people, has seen double digit like-for-like sales growth for the first quarter of 2019, which Spinath is attributing to new operational systems, improved service speed and a reenergised organisational structure, including new UK managing director Allen Kerslake, formerly of Costa and Pret a Manger.

Product development

The return of a bigger site at Westfield Shepherds Bush has created a flagship store for Crepeaffaire, with the site offering sofas, rugs and lamps, the brand’s first cocktail offer and new menu innovations including vegan drinks, such as retro thick shakes and vegan lattes and also savoury waffles, which Spinath says display well and to which there has been a “very positive” response.

He says: “We have the classic menu at Westfield London, but we are also using the site as a catalyst for further product development.

We have an additional range of free-from products to cater for this evergrowing segment and are going to be expanding this across the brand.”

He adds: “We have a small menu with a cocktail area at the site. It is a location driven strategy that could be expanded if it works to do so. Gelato has also been introduced at Westfield as an individual item, not just as a topping.”

Spinath says there is now more of an even sales split between sweet and savoury crepes than when the brand started out and sweet accounted for 75% of sales, with the shift driven by a stronger following for breakfast and lunch in some locations.

Breakfast is also a key growing part of business, seeing over-proportionate growth at some sites, with the brand offering a range of all-day breakfast crepes and Spinath saying that the company is working on more breakfast NPD.

Focus on delivery

Delivery is an important focus for the business, which currently works with delivery partners Deliveroo, Uber Eats and City Pantry, with delivery ranging between 10-15% of sales depending on the site.

Spinath says: “We are embracing delivery. Our product delivers really well. We are looking at different delivery strategies including dark kitchens. We are more of a leisure concept at present but office delivery has enormous potential for us.”

He says he finds inspiration for the business not just from people and other food and entertainment concepts but also from fashion and make-up concepts, which he says help inspire how to present things.

Among places he highlights as big on inspiration at present include Berlin, Tel Aviv, Amsterdam, Mumbai and Shanghai. He says: “There are some incredible new developments happening there. I think it’s a really exciting time to be in hospitality, particularly if you have an international concept.”

The rest of 2019 certainly looks set to be a busy one for Crepeaffaire with Spinath excited by the company’s expansion both at home and internationally and the continual development of its existing sites.

He says: “The customer experience is exceptionally important and in 2019 I’m really looking forward to being seen not just as a food company, but also as an entertainment company, a lifestyle company.”