Yvan Morin is more surprised than anyone that his nearly 20-year-old idea to sell crêpes in downtown Santa Barbara continues to thrive today. The bespectacled, ball-cap-wearing Frenchman, who was born in Brittany — just like those thin pancake-like vehicles for sweet and savory ingredients — opened Pacific Crêpes in 1997, a year after moving to Santa Barbara for, among other reasons, the surf. “I looked for French restaurants, and there was Mousse Odile, but that was about it,” said Morin recently, sitting on a stool at his bar, surrounded by French maps, simple furniture, and a laid-back brasserie vibe.
In 1998, he started serving at the Santa Barbara French Festival in Oak Park, where he returns this weekend to serve up crêpes as well as Le Hot Dog, a beef frank stuffed into a baguette. “It’s great to be somewhere outside instead of inside the restaurant, to see all the people,” said Morin. “And it’s great business for us.”
Much remains the same as when the Anacapa Street restaurant first opened, including most of the menu — one of few in town with escargot and traditional French onion soup. His father and occasionally gruff mother (“Everyone remembers her,” he said), who arrived stateside when Morin moved to the Bay Area for a couple of years, no longer help run the place, having returned to France four years ago. But seats are still reliably packed for weekend brunch, and Morin does brisk breakfast and lunch business seven days a week all summer long. He usually cooks in the mornings, then works the room the rest of the day, saying hi to regulars, like Mayor Helene Schneider, as well as college kids (who had a taste of crêpe life on European tours) and foreign students familiar with the cuisine.
“In Santa Barbara, it’s nice to go to a place and have people recognize you,” said Morin, who caters to quite a few French tourists often winding up in Santa Barbara after stopping in Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and other Southwest tourist spots. “Usually by the end of their trip,” he said, “they’re tired of eating burgers.”
Morin recently stopped serving dinner because he felt his small kitchen couldn’t keep up with the steadily rising quality of newly opened restaurants. More importantly, he wanted to hang out with his 3½-year-old son at night. Spending time with his wife, Yamilcen Morin, whom he met in Bogota, Colombia, in 2009, is easier: She works in the restaurant, too, and was eating a croquet-monsieur while we chatted. That’s just one of the menu items Yvan Morin is tweaking with in this new no-dinner world, and he’s also exploring evening ideas that involve wine.
But even if he just stays the course, Morin seems quite pleased with his crêpe creation. “It’s been great,” he said.