How one family-owned business embraces fast growth
The founders of Crepe Crazy follow three rules to stay productive.
Entrepreneurs have never-ending to-do lists. In the Powerful Productivity series, Chase helps business owners get a leg up on their productivity by sharing stories of successful entrepreneurs who know how to get things done. This article originally appeared in the American City Business Journals.
When Crepe Crazy opened its first location in Austin, Texas in 2016, the company faced more than the usual challenges. As a small, family-owned business, they were scrambling to get on their feet. And they were also balancing the unique demands of creating a company staffed by the deaf and hearing impaired.
But somehow—in just three short years—the company did more than survive, it expanded, opening a second location and creating a sustainable business model.
Crepe Crazy Chief Operating Office Michelle Giterman credits their commitment to productivity in the face of obstacles. "It's difficult. I'm not going to say it's not," says Giterman.
Giterman's parents, Vladimir and Inna, were born in Russia and Ukraine. They moved to Brooklyn in 1990, and later relocated to Austin to get top-notch schooling for their children—Michelle and brother Sergei—who are deaf.
Before opening Crepe Crazy, the Giterman family experimented with other business ideas, but gravitated toward serving crepes because the family recipes that Inna made for friends were a hit.
"She's the one who's creative," says Michelle, adding that her mother traveled around America and Europe gathering ideas for the crepes.
In 2006, Vladimir and Inna launched Crepe Crazy as a food truck, making appearances at festivals including South by Southwest. Since then, the venture has grown into a full family business—Sergei is CEO and Michelle is COO.
The family has continued the food truck business and opened brick-and-mortar locations in Austin and Dripping Springs, Texas. Most of Crepe Crazy's employees are deaf or hearing impaired, and all staff is fluent in American Sign Language.
Crepe Crazy has expanded to include more family members, employees, locations and menu items, the Gitermans have learned how to maximize both their own and their workers' productivity. Here are the tips they've learned along the way to scale their business.
1. Organize and prioritize
The family has clear divisions of labor. Inna is the chef, responsible for the menu, weekly soups and monthly crêpe specials. Vladimir runs the food truck and festivals. Together, they own the business.
Sergei is the CEO, charged with managing the staff, coming up with business ideas and handling problems and daily operations. As COO, Michelle manages payroll and bookkeeping, designs menus and coordinates events.
In addition, the family has a general manager supporting daily operations, and 10 additional managers and shift leaders at the restaurant sites.
A clear structure allows each individual to play to their strengths, organizing and prioritizing the tasks each needs to accomplish to keep the business running smoothly.
"We all chip in and help take care of our responsibilities," says Michelle. "We each have different strengths and roles within the company."
With so many cooks in the figurative kitchen, Crepe Crazy has found it's critical to have financial oversight into all activities. Michelle recommends a business credit card.
"Given the number of managers we have, it's helpful to see every transaction made by our staff," says Michelle about her favorite small business credit card. “It is really nice that everything is transparent, and knowing we have complete control over our purchases. When something looks off, the account is easily put on a hold."
2. Communicate clearly
Good communication is essential to any enterprise, according to the Gitermans.
Upper management—including all family members—meet weekly. They communicate regularly with the entire staff through biweekly updates and meetings several times a year. "We all work together," says Michelle. "We're not wasting time looking at the same problems across the stores."
Part of keeping communications flowing is letting the team know both what an individual is doing and how they do it. "It's not just the day-to-day grind, it's about being part of the whole system," says Michelle.
Within stores, the company uses whiteboards and other tools to clearly communicate tasks, such as what needs to be cleaned or whether additional crêpe batter is needed. The family works together to address the larger issues head-on. "We believe in open communication. Transparency is very important to us," she says. "Bottom line, communication is a huge priority here."
3. Find solutions, not problems
All businesses have their fair share of challenges. But successful business owners know problems can also be opportunities to find solutions that make their company stronger.
As Crepe Crazy grew from a food truck traveling among festivals into an operation with multiple restaurant locations, the family faced a challenge to organize and schedule all employees that joined the team with its expansion.
The Gitermans concentrated on finding a solution. They hired a general manager to focus on the operational details, freeing the owners to concentrate on other issues. "Before we hired our general manager, we used to manage all of the employees and scheduling, but it became too much," says Michelle. "We had to streamline our work."
The family also created a system to have an alternate person in place when someone is away or absent. The Gitermans have also hired effective managers who are steeped in deaf culture and have trained managers and family members across roles.
"If you have a management team that's able to manage your business when you're away, that's huge," says Michelle.
Kent Bernhard is a freelance writer for The Business Journals.