La Gourmandine will take over the former Penn Avenue Fish spot on Forbes Avenue
Rolling onto Western Pennsylvania's burgeoning street food scene is the PGH Crepes cart.
Billing itself as the "first crepes cart in Pittsburgh," the mobile business has been selling crepes on weekends since March at the corner of Penn Avenue and 20th Street in the heart of the Strip District, and soon will be selling them weekdays at Penn and Liberty avenues, Downtown.
So says the friendly guy inside, owner and operator Ilmir Akhmetzyanov.
I met him this past Friday afternoon and chatted with him while he made me one of his $6 savory crepes -- tomato, spinach and cheese -- and my son one of his $5 sweet ones -- strawberry, Nutella and whipped cream, with a pour of chocolate sauce for good measure. My son and I hunched on the sidewalk in the sun and wolfed them down with one of Mr. Akhmetzyanov's fresh-squeezed $3 lemonades. It was a good lunch.
Other flavors that day included ham and cheese; banana, Nutella and whipped cream; banana and peanut butter; and strawberry, banana and Nutella. He may soon add blueberry and raspberry crepes, but, "We want to keep it simple."
Mr. Akhmetzyanov, 27, is a native of Ufa, Russia. He came to the United States as an exchange student in 2006 and decided to stay, but he didn't want to stay in Brookville, Jefferson County.
So in 2010 he moved down to the big city of Pittsburgh, where he tried to make a go out of selling food at flea markets and festivals. He tried burgers, fries and a few other things, but other people already were doing those and he couldn't get in any where.
This winter, he decided to take up the idea of his wife, Regina, and do crepes. "Actually, crepes are really big in Russia." But better, they weren't already really big here. So he did some research and some practicing with a friend who sells crepes on the streets of New York, and this winter he rebuilt his cart into a crepes cart.
He applied for and received his city permit to park the cart in that Downtown spot, and hopes to begin selling crepes there this coming week, Monday through Thursday. Friday through Sunday he'll go back to the Strip.
He's been getting support from other street foodies, such as James Rich of PGH Taco Truck, who at one point Tweeted, "We really like this guy and want to see his crepe cart succeed." So Mr. Rich suggested folks follow the cart on Twitter and teased, "Soon we will join forces."
An appreciative Mr. Akhmetzyanov says he looks forward to that; he plans to do some food truck roundups and other special events such as Little Italy Days in Bloomfield, too.
The young man, who has a son at home in Greenfield who's just over 1 month old, says he's been pleased with the reception he's getting so far from customers: "Seems like they really like them." And he's having fun: "I like talking to people, and I like making crepes."
He and PGH Crepes have been getting a lot of love on Twitter -- follow him @pghcrepes -- from customers including Rick Sebak, or @rickaroundhere, who said he "makes a killer crepe!").
His first name is so much easier to pronounce than his last name, which Mr. Akhmetzyanov shortened to "Akhm" on his business cards, and not just because nobody could pronounce it.
"It's 12 letters," he says. "I can't put any more information on there."
Bob Batz Jr.: email@example.com and 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.