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C’est la Crêpe: Student entrepreneur brings French cuisine to Ames area

Ella Slade

Growing up, Mia Nichols frequently spent time making crêpes with her mother, who taught her how to make them from scratch. Nichols’ family made breakfast together every Sunday; while crêpes weren’t always on the menu, they were an established weekly staple in Nichols’ childhood home.

“When we’d make crêpes for dinner, we’d put some ham and cheese on the table, or my family, we’re a Nutella and strawberry family so that’s all we’d eat sometimes,” Nichols said. “We’d just have like a billion of them before bed.”

After learning how to make homemade crêpes on a stovetop frying pan, Nichols now owns two large, portable griddles, which she sets up for each sale. Recently, she has been selling authentic, locally sourced French cuisine around the Ames and Des Moines areas.

“I love sharing food with others, I love cooking for people,” Nichols said. “It’s one of the things I really enjoy doing at home. I would do it all the time, just help my mom with food, I just love seeing people enjoying it.”

With a passion for sharing French culture through cuisine, Nichols aims to bring a new dish to the table.
“I’ve never seen anyone doing crêpes,” Nichols said. “I feel like every time, I see people doing the same things, so I wanted to do something different.”

Nichols making “The Classic” crêpe at the Market on Hubbell in Des Moines on Sept. 30. (Ella Slade)

Nichols, a senior majoring in hospitality management, started her own crêpe business selling authentic, locally sourced French cuisine in 2023. C’est la Crêpe began through the CyStarters program at Iowa State, which allowed Nichols to purchase a food truck and begin selling.

C’est la Crêpe offers crêpes made fully from scratch, including fillings and toppings. Nichols said the apples in her apple pie crêpe were grown in the backyard of her family home in Treynor, Iowa. Customers can watch as Nichols pours the crêpe batter, spreading it thinly with her t-shaped spatula, and rolls the final product, adorned with whipped cream, barbecue sauce or Nutella, into a cone.

This fall, Nichols has participated in the Ames Farmer’s Market, the Market on Hubbell in Des Moines and the Beautiful Land Market, among other events featuring local vendors and artisans.

Nichols said she has always had a passion for the food industry. “I just kind of grew up eating [crêpes] all the time,” Nichols said. “And I love sharing food, I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant.”

After taking AESHM 474, a class that helps students write their own business plans and service applications, Nichols said she felt prepared to begin operating as a business. While she is currently setting up and tearing down a booth at each sale, Nichols also said she hopes to get her food truck to markets and events later in the year with the help of her father.

Nichols opted for a portable business, as it would allow her to travel after graduation while still figuring out where she wants to live. One of Nichols’ goals for the summer is to take a culinary course abroad, and she has relatives in France with whom she could stay. Nichols’ mother and her family are from Saint-Germain-en-Laye, in the western suburbs of Paris, and she has a cousin in Bordeaux.

When Nichols was 13, she interned with Cedric Fichepain, a close family friend and owner of Le Petit Paris bakery in Omaha, for a week. As a young intern, Nichols did everything from washing countertops to making mousse cakes, which she said involved “lots of layers, and lots of waiting.”

“And then every summer, every holiday, I wanted to help,” Nichols said. “I’ve made so many Buche de Noel cakes from that [experience]. But I would really enjoy doing it. [Cedric] has been super helpful, I can ask him questions for his opinion on stuff, and he just inspires me to do better. He’s been so successful in getting out the French culture.”

Nichols said she feels it’s important to share French cuisine through her own business.

“To me, it’s really important to share French culture and to be locally sourced,” Nichols said. “Once I’m a little bit bigger, I hope to be able to source my foods from places like local farms, and not big box stores.”

This semester marks Nichols’ first with the business in full operation. Nichols plans to apply for her Master’s of Entrepreneurship after graduating and is working on finding a regular spot on campus for future C’est la Crêpe food truck operations.

To learn more about C’est la Crêpe, visit the Instagram page.

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  • J

    Jae | Oct 16, 2023 at 12:18 pm

    Where can I buy these crepes??

  • N

    Neysa Goodman | Oct 16, 2023 at 9:22 am

    Félicitations, Mia! Tu es formidable!

  • C

    Crepe Wizz | Oct 16, 2023 at 1:47 am

    Ames’ own ‘Lockwood Cafe’ has been selling crepes for years