When husband and wife duo Eric Shkolnik and Paula Rimer graduated from college together in NYC they had no idea that one day they would found a crepe manufacturing business. Within three years of graduation, they took their first big leap as business partners although not in the field of food manufacturing. They established a tech company, Integrated Data Consulting Services (IDCS, Inc.) —a leading partner solution firm to Wall Street financial institutions, insurance and the healthcare sector. The company grew exponentially and with that growth came great success to which Paula credits “beginner’s luck”. After 17 years at the helm of IDCS the husband and wife team were ready to begin a new chapter. Their entrepreneurial drive led them to sell IDCS and try something completely different, so in 2007 Crepini was born.
It All Began with a Recipe
Having emigrated with her family from the Soviet Union to New York City at 11 years old, Paula had a strong connection with the family’s French and Russian roots. She had an especially strong affinity for the kind of crepe that she grew up with but couldn’t find in the U.S. “There were a lot of crepes in supermarkets, cafés, and restaurants across Europe and Asia, but none in the U.S.” Paula was disenchanted with the scarcity of Russian and French based crepes. Paula and Eric decided to exploit a clear market opening and ran with the idea to market “America’s Crepe.” Paula explains, “We saw Crepini as a fusion of the French crêpe and the Russian blini.” Theirs was a modest start; the couple took small orders at first and attended trade shows to gauge consumer interest in their product. Those first orders were filled manually in a leased catering kitchen in Westchester, NY.
Business began to gain momentum for Crepini, but without any crepe manufacturers or co-packers in the U.S. or Canada, their modest processes couldn’t match the growing demand.
Into the Unknown
In order to overcome the growing production gap Paula and Eric knew they needed to take a second leap of faith. In 2011 they sold their Westchester home and built a 10,000 square-foot production facility in Brooklyn, investing the profits from the sale of IDCS. In order to scale-up operations they imported crepe manufacturing machines, packaging equipment and had to custom build flash freezers. Paula described the moment: “It was a huge leap, not knowing if we could operate a manufacturing arm, but somehow it worked. We are now a profitable family business.”
The move to the new facility has allowed Crepini to fulfill large scale orders and secure business with resellers such as Walmart, Sam’s Club, Costco and other nationwide supermarkets as well as Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) chains. Even New York City Public Schools had Crepinis on their breakfast and lunch menus. In addition to manufacturing, exporting is also part of Crepini’s repertoire. When the company decided to attain the Global Food Safety Initiative Certification GFSI FSSC22000 – ISO22000 (a distinguished designation for high-level food safety processes), they were able to access an even broader global market.
Tapping New York’s Manufacturing Network
Reflecting on the company’s progression, Paula credits many resources that contributed to its growth. Specifically, Sarabeth’s (a NY-based specialty food manufacturer) provided personal mentorship to Crepini via a Clinton Foundation program. This valuable relationship was instrumental to Crepini to oversee their entry into manufacturing.
Through that mentorship, Paula and Eric were introduced to ITAC, NYC’s regional Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). ITAC was instrumental in helping Crepini access NYC’s Small Business Services Training program grant. This grant made it possible for Crepini to provide every member of their staff with Food Safety and Quality Training.
Crepini was also awarded a grant from the Workforce Development Institute (WDI) to fund training on new production equipment. Training for all staff was essential to complete this project, adding production capacity, ensuring food-safety, reducing waste, and expanding the workforce.
The Specialty Food Association also helped Crepini to flourish. The Association provided them with member benefits such as diversity share groups, access to the Fancy Food Shows, and prestigious SOFI awards (Crepini holds the honor of being a 4 time SOFI finalist).
Paula maintains that her company’s evolution is attributed to the many resources that have helped them at each step of the journey. “So many people connected the dots and gave us expert advice. To this day we work with Cornell University’s Food Entrepreneurship Center. When we started out, they assisted us with a business plan and advice. The network of assistance is expansive and we have always connected to it.” Today, Paula sits on the Board of Directors at ITAC, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership for New York City, and the Board of Advisers of the Diversity Council of the Specialty Food Association.
Giving Back to the Industry’s Next Generation
Outside of the demands of running their own business, Crepini frequently offers mentorship to newcomers. Whether someone reaches out for personal business advice, asks Crepini to speak at a special event or open their doors to a student program, Crepini is eager to share what they have learned over the years.
Kinda Younes, Executive Director of ITAC, describes her impressions of Crepini’s commitment to community: “Despite long work days and pressure linked to Crepini’s impressive growth, Paula and Eric always somehow find time to provide significant value to ITAC and local manufacturers. They never hesitate to open up about the opportunities and challenges that Crepini has faced, in the hope that others can benefit from their experience. Giving back is very much part of Crepini’s culture, and their solid, honest advice has inspired numerous food startups to dream big and succeed.”
“What Makes Us, Us”
Today, Crepini continues to expand operations. The company has sets its sights on the next strategic move which will include relocation to a larger facility, possibly in the Hudson Valley. Like most manufacturers in New York, Crepini has faced its share of growing pains but has overcome them with a unique understanding of their own identity. “We are risk takers. We are not afraid to jump off the roof and while we’re in the air, we are lucky enough to figure out how to land on our feet. That’s what makes us, us.”