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Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009

Business Skyrockets for Satellite Crepes

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Can one object contain an object larger than itself? This isn’t a Buddhist koan, but rather the question Dirk Werderich asked himself when he was designing an eco-friendly cart for Satellite Crepes, the business venture he and his wife, Janeen, began last year. The cart had to be big enough to accommodate their entire business, but small enough to fit in the back of the couple’s minivan. With some German engineering and a willingness to think outside the box, Satellite Crepes rolled onto the Milwaukee street scene in the summer of 2008 and business skyrocketed.

When Dirk arrived in Milwaukee from Kassel, Germany in 2004, he couldn’t find a single crepe cart, a European street food staple that is as ubiquitous as the American hot dog stand. Whether it’s lunchtime or bar time, Europeans line up at these roaming carts for thin pancakes rolled with a wide assortment of fillings. Seeing a demand just waiting to be filled, Dirk and Janeen set about designing a “green” crepe cart.

“We followed the city health department’s specifications, which including a sink to wash hands and refrigeration to keep the food cold,” Dirk explains. “I researched a do-it-yourself refrigeration unit and built it into the crepe cart so it would work on a battery that is additionally powered by the solar panel mounted on top of the cart.” That battery also runs the closed system water pump. The two large griddles on which the crepes are cooked run on one tank of propane gas and the cart itself is powered by nothing more than human strength. Satellite Crepes makes miniscule carbon foot printing look easy.

The Werderichs erect their crepe cart at strategic spots around Milwaukee—in front of Brady Street’s Rochambo coffee shop on Thursday and Friday evenings; at the East Side Green Market on Saturdays; at the Skyline Music series on Tuesday nights; downtown at Zeidler Square at lunchtime on Wednesdays and at UWM and Marquette during the fall. People are lining up for the camaraderie found around the crepe cart and a stellar gourmet street food menu the likes this city has never seen before.

Satellite Crepes uses fresh, organic, locally produced ingredients whenever possible. They make two 100% organic batters. Sans milk and eggs, the vegan batter is made of high-protein garbanzo bean flour. The other, more traditional buckwheat batter is made from a recipe originating in Brittany, France, the birthplace of the crepe. Then menu is divided into two crepe categories: sweet, using ingredients like chocolate-hazelnut Nutella, sweet bananas, strawberries and Grand Marnier, and savory, which makes use of rich flavors like asiago and mozzarella cheese, prosciutto, tomato, basil and truffle or garlic oil. Yielding a kitchen tool that resembles a window squeegee, Dirk or Janeen spreads a fine layer of batter across the hot griddle and makes one of Satellite Crepes’ standard dishes, like the Supercluster or Moon Unit, or they cook up customized orders.

Events like the Vendy Awards, an intense cook-off between New York City’s best street food vendors, affirm that the art of the sidewalk chef is gaining credibility in this country. Here in Milwaukee, Satellite Crepes is proving that not all of Milwaukee’s best food is made in a restaurant.

Satellite Crepes is the subject of a documentary on YouTube, and can be found on Facebook and at www.satellitecrepes.com.

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