Emerging Concepts | October 2011 | By Judy Kneiszel

One to Watch: BannaStrow’s

Crepe concept hopes to grow across the country by offering nontraditional units, international flare.

BannaStrow's offers both sweet and savory crepe offerings.
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Mauricio Acevedo, CEO of BannaStrow’s Crêpes & Coffee, sees the growing chain as the final frontier of the quick-serve industry, because crêpes can go where no cuisine has gone before.

“Crêpes are easy to make and fast to make,” Acevedo says. “They can be made with a lot of variation but without a lot of ingredients.”

Cooking crêpes does not produce odors or fumes, he says, so a BannaStrow’s operation does not require a ventilation system like most quick serves do.

“There’s no need for a hood, so we can be anywhere, and that’s a huge advantage for us,” Acevedo says. “We don’t need to be in the food court; we can be in a hallway.”

Two of the four operating BannaStrow’s units are kiosks in malls, while the other two are strip-center stores located in plazas off the Florida Turnpike. The next two slated to open are standalone units, and plans are in the works for a BannaStrow’s truck. There are 23 franchise units under development, and Acevedo says there are long-range plans to expand BannaStrow’s to 125 units by 2015.

“This concept takes into account all the problems encountered when setting up a restaurant,” he says. “The investment is very low, and the concept offers food that can be eaten any time of day. Plus, the product is easily adaptable to any market.”

At BannaStrow’s, a proprietary crêpe batter is cooked in front of customers on electric griddles. The crêpes are then filled with precooked, precut, and premade fillings and served wrapped in paper or on paper plates. The only kitchen waste is the banana peels and tops of strawberries.

BannaStrow’s

CEO: Mauricio Acevedo

HQ: Miami

Year Started: 2002

Annual Sales: Undisclosed

Total Units: 4

Franchise Units: 2

www.bannastrows.com

“The concept was designed so during low traffic times of the day, they can operate with one person,” Acevedo says.

The menu consists of crêpes with either sweet or savory fillings. Customers can also pick and choose from a list of ingredients to create their own crêpe. Crêpes range in price from $3.50 to $8.50. An average ticket is about $7.50.

While crêpes are not yet common fare in the U.S., Acevedo says that when people discover them, they fall in love.

“Savory crêpes are a healthy alternative to a sub sandwich,” he says. The same batter is used for the sweet and savory crêpes, and there are 150 calories in a crêpe before it is filled, Acevedo says.

To make a crêpe, the batter is cooked, and then the large, thin, circular pancake is folded in half. The fillings are placed in the center of the half-circle, and then the ends are folded into the center to form a triangle. BannaStrow’s also offers a crêpe-wrap, which is a filled crêpe folded like a burrito.

“People are pleasantly surprised that a crêpe is a whole meal,” Acevedo says. “And between the options on the menu and the possibility of making their own, it doesn’t get boring.”

A popular savory choice on the BannaStrow’s menu is the Thai, made with ham or chicken, vegetables, mozzarella cheese, and a sweet-and-spicy Thai sauce. Another popular item is the Caesar, made with chicken, romaine lettuce, and Caesar sauce. The Napoli Tomato features tomatoes, mozzarella, pesto, Alfredo sauce, and a choice of chicken or ham.

On the sweet side, the Fruit Jumble combines the concept’s namesake fruits—strawberries and bananas—in a dessert crêpe. Another sweet selection is the Strudel Supreme with warm apple cinnamon filling, almonds, caramel sauce, and a side of vanilla ice cream.

About 45 percent of the crêpes sold at BannaStrow’s are sweet, while 55 percent are savory varieties.

All BannaStrow’s stores carry the basic product line of crêpes, smoothies, and coffee. At larger stores, the menu also has waffles and soups. Crêpe fillings can vary to meet local flavor preferences as long as the ingredients are available from a national distribution company, so all franchisees have the opportunity to offer them if they wish. In South Florida, for example, a Guava Cheese crêpe is on the menu, because that particular flavor combination is popular with Cuban Americans.

Breakfast crêpes, like the Egg & Bacon, Egg & Cheese, Three Cheese, and Granola, are available all day, as are specialty coffee drinks and fresh fruit smoothies. Smoothies come in flavors such as Tropical Breeze, which combines strawberry, banana, and pineapple, or Mango Twist, made with mango, pineapple, and orange juice.

“We see a lot of families coming here driven by mom because of the healthy options,” Acevedo says. “But kids can find something they like, too, like our kids’ product called the Fruit Cup, which is just a smaller crêpe filled with strawberries and whip cream.”

The four BannaStrow’s in operation are located in South Florida. Expansion is planned throughout the Southeast and up the East Coast. Acevedo says there will also be a unit operating in Colombia, South America, by the end of 2011.