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Crepes Bonaparte: Behind the Berets

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by Maryn Nelson Moslenko

It’s the hottest day of the year, and Christian Murcia and his crew of the Crepes Bonaparte food truck are hard at work churning out their popular crepes to eager customers, when a woman drives by and yells out her window, “Oh my gosh, it’s you! You’re famous!”

Murcia, a contestant on the Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race series, has experienced an uptick in business (and a few rabid fans) since the show first aired on August 15th, and it’s clear why. Crepes Bonaparte’s charming, beret-wearing team serves up incredibly fresh, made-to-order crepes that rival those of a Parisienne café. The crepe requested by customers most often is the “HazelBerryAnna,” a classic sweet crepe filled with freshly cut strawberries, bananas, and Nutella. But Murcia’s personal favorite? The decadent “PCH,” filled with peanut butter, Nutella, and honey. Murcia gushes, “It’s just like a warm Reese’s peanut butter cup. I like it with ice cream, so you get the hot and cold, especially on a day like this.”

When Crepes Bonaparte was first approached by the Food Network to participate in the Great Food Truck Race, in which seven acclaimed food trucks compete for the highest sales in various cities across America (and a grand prize of $50,000), Murcia jumped at the chance to compete against some of the other well-known trucks from across the country. As Murcia puts it, “It was an opportunity to test our abilities against some of the most successful food trucks out there.” Spoken like a true competitor. Of course, arriving on the first day of the competition to be greeted by famed chef Tyler Florence was no doubt an exhilarating experience for the show’s contestants. Murcia recalls, “We were a little nervous because it was a little intimidating. You know…you show up, and there’s Tyler Florence!”

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Two of the six Great Food Truck Race episodes have aired to date. The first episode took Crepes Bonaparte and the competition to San Diego, California, where Murcia had his first taste of the challenges that were to come: “We were thrown into an environment of, ‘OK, you’re going to San Diego…GO!’ so it was very rushed to figure out what to do. We were planning literally as we were on our way to San Diego.” Murcia also recalls the challenges met in the second episode’s trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico: “We ran out of food like three times, so we had to keep buying more food! It’s tough to know how many people to prep for when you’re in a place where you don’t know what your sales are going to be.”

One can’t help but wonder how the dynamics were between the contestants off-camera in such a competitively-charged atmosphere while on the show. Murcia explains, “When we were selling, we were competitors. We didn’t talk at the end of the day about who had done what in terms of sales…but we’re all great friends. We all got to try each other’s food, and it was all delicious.”

Also featured on the show as a key member of team Crepes Bonaparte is Murcia’s then-fiancé Danielle. Now married, Murcia jokes, “We spend more time together as a couple than I think any other couple out there.” Despite the long hours logged side by side, the duo works very well together. Murcia explains, “I’m more the numbers, finance guy who has to do all the paychecks, HR, and permitting, and Danielle is very much our marketing and operations person. Because we work so much, it’s a great way to spend that time together.”

Of course, operating a food truck presents its own challenges, television show or not. The most challenging aspect of the business for Murcia is simply working within such a small physical space. Murcia explains, “Dealing with a small kitchen and operating a full service catering business out of here as well is the biggest challenge. We are constantly dealing with never having enough refrigerator space, and having to get creative with how to position things in the fridge and make it work.”

Challenges aside, Crepes Bonaparte has benefited from the exposure gained through the show, if not a few borderline-obsessed fans. Murcia laughs, “We do a farmer’s market in Anaheim, and one lady literally shoved her cell phone in the truck and was like, ‘I have to take a picture of you!’ I thought, ‘Whoa, that’s a first!’ When people come by the truck who have seen the show and say, ‘Oh, I’m rooting for you guys,’ it has made our work environment that much more fun.” Call it irony, but Murcia has yet to watch any of the episodes of the Great Food Truck Race. “I don’t have cable!” he confesses.

Murcia first conceptualized Crepes Bonaparte as an undergraduate student at the University of Southern California. Lacking the big dollars required to open a full fledged restaurant, Murcia first operated Crepes Bonaparte as a catering firm specializing in crepe stations, with the hope of evolving into to a restaurant in the future (catering still comprises 30% of the business). Of course, given the popularity and expansion of the food truck industry over the past few years, Murcia is content with current operations: “As of now, I plan on staying with the food truck, and just seeing it out because it’s still such a new trend. We don’t really know exactly where it’s going…we’re all learning.”

Behind the beret, Murcia is a businessman with a passion for providing customers with crepes just the way they are in France: “simple, cheap, and on-the-go.” Murcia reflects, “Every time I see a Yelp or blogger review about us, I feel like we’ve done that part right. So I think that’s the most rewarding part of the business. Even though I have these ideas of how I want my business to look in my head, the consumer gets it, and it reminds me that OK, I’m doing what I meant to do.”

Maryn Nelson Moslenko is an OC-based food blogger who writes Le Cupcakerie. The Great Food Truck Race airs Sundays at 9 on the Food Network.