When La Belle Crepe owner Alan Lenne abruptly closed his tiny Nicollet Mall restaurant earlier this month, he placed the blame squarely on the seemingly endless Nicollet Mall reconstruction, and what he saw as the city’s unhelpful attitude toward his struggling business.
He lucked into a great airline deal and took his three children to his native France for a psyche-soothing visit. At the time, he said that there was a fifty-fifty chance that the creperie would remain closed.
Upon reflection, he’s chosen to re-open.
“The sabbatical helped,” said Lenne. “It helped just being with my kids for a week, and being with my mom, and being out of the whole equation back in Minneapolis. By being there, I could block it out of my mind. That helped bring clarity.
“I talked to a bunch of people who are not part of what I do every day, and they helped me see the issue from a different perspective," he said. "That’s what I needed. I’m not going to give up just because the city doesn’t want to help.”
Who's willing to lend a hand? The Super Bowl host committee.
“A guy from the committee called me while I was in France,” Lenne said. “They don’t want to have closed businesses on the Mall. He told me about some big plans. They hope to draw 25,000 people a day to Nicollet Mall over a 10-day period. The busiest part of the plan will be the block between 8th and 9th streets, right in front of the restaurant. So we’ll be open at night on those days. It’s going to be fun.”
La Belle Crepe will reopen Saturday. For those unfamiliar with the closet-size restaurant (Minneapolitans with long memories will recall that the space once housed what was surely the smallest footprint in the Fannie Farmer candy shop chain), it specializes in crepes, banh mi and pho.
“The soup has always been the most popular,” said Lenne. “With the crepes, the ladies love the chicken with roasted apples, brie and pesto – that’s by far my biggest seller – and the guys love the gyro.”
At breakfast the bestseller is the veggie Florentine crepe, with eggs, creamed spinach, tomato and a balsamic glaze.
“And my coffee,” he said. “The people come for the Lavazza. After you drink it, it’s hard to go back to anything else.”
The restaurant will return to its usual hours, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Here's hoping that the weather holds and Lenne can maintain tables on the sidewalk.
“We’re a little crowded in the winter, we’ve only got six seats inside,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a little like Al’s Breakfast.”
Future plans? Lenne hopes to revive his popular sidewalk gelato cart, which was a big hit when he introduced it the summer prior to Mall reconstruction.
“And I’m going to figure out if I can put my popcorn and hot chocolate outside during the Super Bowl festivities,” he said.
When he opened La Belle Crepe nine years ago, Lenne recalled that he had no idea if it would work.
“But it did, and I was making good money up until three years ago,” he said.
That’s when the Nicollet Mall was turned upside down. All-important foot traffic in front of his mom-and-pop Medical Arts Building shop slowed to a trickle, and sales plummeted. Lenne said that he went through all of his savings to make up for the 70 percent loss in revenue. The city is pledging that the Mall will be “substantially complete” by next month.
“I’m going to give it another go, and we’ll see what happens,” said Lenne. “This has been my life for nine years. I should have quit three years ago when the construction started, and not now, when things are finally getting better. It would be stupid to give it up now.”