By Ally Markovich
Before Kim and Kathy were Jammin’ Crêpes in Princeton, they were Two Flippin’ Chicks selling crêpes and preserves on Saturday mornings at West Windsor Community Farmers’ Market.
Kim Rizk and Kathy Klockenbrink, business partners who founded Jammin’ Crêpes, sat down with the Princeton Echo at a round, wooden table in the back corner of their crêperie at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon in late September, when the lunch rush was long over and the place took on a calm. Upbeat music played from speakers in the corner of the room.
The legal business name still reads, “Two Flippin’ Chicks Doing Business.” “We have one vendor who still writes out invoices that say, ‘Two Floppin’ Chicks,’” Rizk said, laughing.
Amin Rizk, Kim’s husband and business partner, came up with the original name of the now bustling downtown Princeton restaurant. He manages the financial side of what is now Jammin’ Crêpes. On a shelf on the wall, two chick figurines sit on a closed jar, a rooster figure, intended to represent Amin, seated just beside them.
Starting out with a mutual interest in opening up a crêperie, Rizk and Klockenbrink began experimenting in each other’s home kitchens in the fall of 2010, using friends and family as willing test subjects. Rizk was working in real estate and Klockenbrink as a speech therapist, but both women have food backgrounds.
Rizk grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania, where she learned the value and process of preserving, worked for a group of specialty farmers’ markets called HayDay Country Markets, and authored the HayDay Country Market Cookbook. Klockenbrink said she was late to the table, so to speak, taking culinary classes while she lived in Grenoble, France for seven years, where she worked on a project compiling recipes from all over the world.
By January 2011, with the flavors just right, the women had rented a commercial kitchen in Rocky Hill, one town over from Princeton. When the farmer’s market season came, they prepped in the kitchen on Fridays and worked 10-hour days on Saturdays, cooking at the griddle at West Windsor Farmer’s Market or at Princeton Farmers’ Market.
All the while, Rizk worked full time and Klockenbrink part time. After two encouraging farmers’ market seasons, the pair started talking about opening a storefront. They took nearly two years to find a place, finally opening their doors October 2014.
Rizk and Klockenbrink brought the mission, feel, and food of the place straight from their farmers’ market days. For one thing, the pair realized that people love watching their crêpes being made and hung onto that idea—so when they moved to a store, they decided to cook in an open space.
“The farmers’ market was a great launching pad,” said Klockenbrink, who credits their success to starting small and building up incrementally and methodically.
The storefront was driven by a bigger vision, but it was rooted in familiar principles. During a busy lunch hour, the restaurant feels like a bustling market. As at the market stand, customers order at the counter, choose a place to sit and bus their own tables.
Though the open kitchen was intentional, Klockenbrink and Rizk could not have planned for their singing “crepistas,” a term the entrepreneurs say they coined together. “We have some great singers on our staff,” Klockenbrink said, laughing. The atmosphere the singing crepistas bring reminds Rizk of the palpable energy at a farmers’ market at 7 a.m., when music blasting from speakers got the early crowd excited each Saturday.
The partners divide the work, with Rizk in the kitchen and Klockenbrink at the front of the house. “She’s a better communicator. She has more patience than I do,” Rizk said of Klockenbrink, laughing. Klockenbrink counters by saying that Rizk has an amazing palate, adding that they complement one another well.
The setbacks that Rizk and Klockenbrink faced at the farmers’ market stand prepared them for one of their greatest challenges as restaurant owners: volume.
On opening day at Jammin’ Crêpes, a line curled out the door and along the sidewalk, and they found themselves once again challenged to handle the sheer number of customers. The women had unknowingly opened on Parents’ Weekend at the University, an event which will fill up even the emptiest of restaurants in Princeton.
“I equate it to an airplane taking off. Once open, you can’t close!” Klockenbrink joked. On that first day, their “fancy POS system” broke down. POS meaning, in this case, Point of Sale. They went back to basics with handwritten slips, and have managed customer flow with pen and paper ever since.
Though they’ve learned to cope with demand, the volume of customers continues to challenge the business owners, who never fail to see a line and a packed restaurant at lunchtime. Which makes not rushing people out of their seats one of the most challenging aspects for the business.
Jammin’ Crêpes’ menu is divided into three types of crepes: a “Rise & Shine “ morning theme, plus savory and sweet crepes. These are served alongside daily soups and salads. A cinnamon sugar crepe with their own “Nut-cho-tella,” is named the “Wyatt” after a little boy who asked for the combination inside his crêpe every Saturday at the farmers’ market stand.
The growth of Klockenbrink and Rizk’s business has coincided with a resurgence of interest in farmers’ markets, Rizk said, a fact which helps explain, in part, the warm welcome that Jammin’ Crêpes has received from the community. “While there aren’t a lot of female restaurateurs in downtown Princeton, we feel enormous support from the community,” she said, adding that the ‘community’ includes loved ones who have all stepped in and folded a crêpe or two. “We do pay our loved ones in jam,” she said.
“Behind every great woman can be a great man,” Klockenbrink said, joking about the support her husband has given her, and the slack he picked up around the house.
The value of supporting local food is personal to Klockenbrink and Rizk, who have sold food alongside local farmers for years. Jammin’ Crêpes serves Small World Coffee and Bent Spoon Ice Cream in support of local food vendors. Through the connections they’ve made at the markets, farmers have started coming to them with seasonal ingredients. Ninety-five percent of the food Jammin’ Crêpes uses comes from local farms, with a percentage of coming from farms in New York and Pennsylvania. A map of New Jersey farms hangs on the wall of the restaurant opposite the open kitchen: farmers’ market guidebooks line the shelves near the cash register, alongside jars of pickles, peaches, “tangy asparagus,” “dilly beans,” and even scrunched-up “Got Jam” T-shirts.
Buying food fresh from farmers also means improvising. “We have a lot of fun being creative with local ingredients. I didn’t realize that we could get huckleberries, or something called a kiwi-berry. We found them recently from farmers and have come up with a huckleberry-raspberry jam and strawberry-kiwi jam. Whatever we can find, we’ll come up with some inventive flavor,” Klockenbrink said. The menu rotates regularly to keep up with changes in seasonal ingredients—their Veggie Goat, for example, is a staple but will be stuffed with a different vegetables depending on the season.
“[The farmers] come in with crates of surplus tomatoes or peppers, and Kim [Rizk] will get a call about extra apricots,” Klockenbrink said. Rizk will often be so busy in the kitchen during the day that she can’t respond to every email. “If I don’t respond, they [the farmers] show up at the door,” Rizk said. “I mean, talk about a sense of community,” she said.
Community, more than anything, stands out at as Rizk and Klockenbrink’s driving force. They took two years to pick their storefront location because they couldn’t imagine being anywhere but in the heart of downtown Princeton. “We’re residents, our kids grew up here, we’ve both been actively involved in fundraising for the community, and we wanted to continue that,” Klockenbrink said.
Klockenbrink and Rizk value responsibility as community members, which is why they compost or recycle nearly 90 percent of their waste. They rotate the compost bin four times a day, but the trash bin only fills by a quarter during a typical day, Klockenbrink said.
The pair insist that responsibility is affordable and profitable for the restaurant. Pairing crêpes with preserves was the original seed of the idea, and setting up a kitchen to be able to preserve was one of the best decisions they made, Rizk said.
“We buy when food is in season and abundant, and freeze or preserve it. This makes fresh food using fresh food affordable and sustainable,” Klockenbrink said. Jammin’ Crêpes makes everything from its Nut-cho-tella to its horseradish from scratch. Rizk said the process is more labor-intensive than it is cost-intensive.
Jammin’ Crêpes is not a traditional crêperie in its mission or its food. Most people come in for a meal, rather than for dessert. Eighty percent of the business is savory rather than sweet. “That surprises a lot of people,” Rizk said.
This also often means another thing: no strawberries. “People are always asking me, ‘You’re really not going to serve strawberries year-round?’” Rizk said.
“People hear crêpe and they think French. It’s not the traditional crêpe, and we get criticism for that. But we’re not trying to do that, and we try let people know,” Rizk said.
Jammin’ Crêpes, 20 Nassau St., Princeton. Web: jammincrepes.com. Phone: (609) 924-5387. Closed Mondays.