Pancakes in Paris: An Entrepreneurial Tale

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Pancakes in Paris: An Entrepreneurial Tale
Pancakes in Paris: The real thing . . . plus Craig Carlson’s new memoir about bringing a pancake dream to Paris.(© Craig Carlson) A bottomless cup of coffee? In Paris? C’est pas possible! That was just one thing American Craig Carlson missed in Paris years ago, along with a good old American breakfast—eggs, bacon, and pancakes slathered in real maple syrup. And so, he embarked on a dream. A syrupy vision quest. With solid business sense, humor, and an admirable ability to rise to the many challenges of starting a restaurant in Paris, he gave birth to the Breakfast in America diners. And, although the birth underwent a long and demanding labor, it seemed to be Craig’s destiny to become “the pancake man.” The pancake man—a former Hollywood scriptwriter—has now written a memoir that follows his stumbles and sprints to success. We might think he is a lucky man to have achieved his dream. And he is. But, as his story unfolds, we see that it was not just luck, but also his perseverance, the support of his friends, and his ability to think creatively that enabled him to succeed despite a barrage of obstacles. The memoir, titled Pancakes in Paris, is a useful “how to” manual (and, in some cases, a “how not to” manual) for each step of setting up a business in France—a good guide for fledgling entrepreneurs. Getting funding; finding space; working with architects, electricians, and suppliers; hiring employees (attempting to fire employees); marketing a concept; connecting with customers; depending on friends; building community—these “to do” tasks are at the core of this book. The memoir is also an entertaining story of life, in the author’s natural voice, full of heartwarming moments, inspirational quotes, and vividly drawn characters. If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. Milton Berle. As Thomas Jefferson said, “Every man should have two countries: his own and France. Craig has a deep-rooted love of France and relishes being “a goodwill ambassador between the two places” he loves. He was proudest of a review of the Breakfast in America (BIA) diners that proclaimed them a “cultural crossroads between conflicted countries.” He admits to walking the fine line. When he began planning for BIA, he had crucial choices to make. Should portions be huge like American breakfasts or reasonable like the French? Should savory and sweet be separate or on the same plate (and “can you please pass the ketchup?”). Should he serve U.S. or French wine? Should the juke box play Johnny Hallyday or Bruce Springsteen? Could he find the real taste of the American diner food through French source channels? Attacking each challenge with the ultimate goal of authenticity, he solved every puzzle in turn. The hardest food to find? American bacon. The book describes his search. First, the local butchers supplied lardon, but it was so filled with cartilage that it almost broke the slicer. Next came something akin to Canadian bacon, which wasn’t bad, but, after all, the diner was not going to be called “Breakfast in Saskatchewan.” Finally through a source that was supplying EuroDisney, he found the perfect product … and brought home the bacon. His first customers taught him how special it was to make a connection with new friends over food and conversation. His first employee taught him the darker side of French labor law. And his life in Paris taught him to love what we all appreciate about this great city. With all its ancient buildings, Paris had a wonderful way of reminding you how quickly life goes by, how we’re all just passing through—while at the same time, it forces you to slow down and enjoy every precious moment while you can. And let’s not forget about that bottomless cup of coffee. C’est possible! As much American coffee as you want—called jus de chaussette by the French. Come into any of the three Breakfast in America restaurants and savor endless sock juice. It will last until your last delicious bite of syrupy pancake. Craig Carlson will be presenting “Pancakes in Paris” at the Abbey Bookshop on Thursday, September 29 at 7 pm (29 Rue de la Parcheminerie, 75005). The public is invited.  Visit Breakfast in America (for breakfast, lunch, or dinner) in the 5th arrondissement at 17 Rue des Écoles, in the 4th arrondissement at 4 rue Malher, and in the 2nd arrondissement at 41 Rue des Jeûneurs.

Lead photo credit : Caption: Pancakes in Paris: The real thing . . . plus Craig Carlson’s new memoir about bringing a pancake dream to Paris.

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Meredith Mullins is an internationally exhibited fine art photographer and instructor based in Paris. Her work is held in private and museum collections in Europe and the U.S. and can be seen at or in her award-winning book "In A Paris Moment." (If you’re in Paris, a few rare, signed copies are available at Shakespeare and Company and Red Wheelbarrow.) She is a writer for OIC Moments and other travel and education publications.


  • Alex Ash
    2016-11-07 14:33:34
    Alex Ash
    I lived/worked in Paris for a bit...including a stint @ B.I.A itself! The first time I went to Paris I was studying abroad, and one day, in the midst of a wave being homesick, I found B.I.A and decided to check it out. I sat by myself and ordered a milkshake and chili cheese fries: it did the trick--it brought just a small, piece of home to me that day. I wrote this shortly upon returning home... here is my 'insider's American view' on the diner! I've worked in a lot of restaurants. Some upscale, where balancing martinis became a forte and others where getting spaghetti sauce on my shirt was a regular occurrence. None though, as memorable or fun as an authentic American diner in Paris, France. After college I found myself in the City of Light teaching English for a year...and also very poor. What started out as a way to make a couple extra bucks turned out to be the perfect place to give me a slice of home when I needed it most. Americans take diners and their classic fare for granted. Their tile floors, paper place mats, plush leather booths and bar stools get mistaken for being cheesy and over the top. Au contraire. All the elements of diners reflect the true essence of Americans. We’re as loud and cheerful as the music streaming out of the jukebox and we’re as hearty as the food served. Life in Paris is fast-paced; Breakfast in America was a place to sit down and enjoy a bottomless cup of coffee and just catch up with the world. It wasn’t fancy, but it was real. Upscale restaurants often try to operate seamlessly but diners are the complete opposite. They are raw and don't try to hide the work that goes into running a restaurant. We rolled silverware in red, paper napkins and washed glasses in front of customers--often squeezed next to a diner stuffing their face with chili cheese fries. Shouting milkshake orders across the dining room wasn't uncommon, nor was getting the whole restaurant involved in a karaoke session--Michael Jackson and Queen were favorites. People loved to take pictures of their banana splits, and were often tickled by my accent. B.I.A constantly had a line of people out the door. There was a nice mix of American ex-pats or kids studying abroad, travelers, and of course, French people that just wanted a big ol’ American cheeseburger. More than pancakes, bacon and eggs, and Dr. Pepper, people came for one thing: an American experience. There is something truly special about American diners. There's a ne sais quoi. Comfort? Tradition? All of the above. I just didn't realize it until I moved 4,000 miles away and started working in one.