Ironworks Cafe & Creperie is a cozy spot for a coffee and crepes of all kinds, from four berry to butter chicken. This new business in downtown Duncan is run by a dynamo entrepreneur currently nominated for the Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce Black Tie Awards. Read on for more details on how this business came to be!
“Growing up with a Dutch mother, every other day we were eating crepes,” Dina Stuelher, owner of Ironworks Café and Creperie, explains over a dark roast coffee. “But I looked around the island and there were pretty well no crepe shops.”
A lightbulb went on and Dina opened her first creperie in Ladysmith in March 2018.
“I’ve always known I would own more than one crepe shop,” she adds, and in November 2019, she made that gut feeling a reality, opening a second location on Station Street in downtown Duncan.
Dina’s decision to go into the crepe business stemmed from a childhood dream of owning a coffee shop. When that dream "fell by the wayside," Dina spent time hosting events on cruise ships – bringing her to 103 countries, many of which served crepes.
An adventurer by nature, Dina also briefly considered the idea of being an RCMP officer. “I thought shooting guns and driving fast sounded right up my alley," she says. "But then I thought about the logistics of it and decided to do something else.”
One bite of Dina’s greek chicken crepe at her new location makes it clear that this savvy, hard-working business owner picked a stellar path for herself. From classics like a bacon breakfast crepe – generously doused in bechamel sauce – to creative works like her candy cane crepe, Dina has experimented enough to know what tastes great.
“I am not a professional chef,” she acknowledges, though she has made a lot of crepes throughout her life. Undeterred by this, Dina took on extra training by the owner and profesional chef behind the The Vine, a Belgian-inspired fine dining spot in Cowichan Bay that also serves crepes. She quickly mastered recipes like a butter chicken crepe.
“I like putting a creative twist on things,” she adds, and at her Ladysmith location she embarked on a challenge to never repeat a special in the first year she was open. “I came up with lots of crepe ideas – pizza crepes, shrimp salad crepes, every dessert crepe you can imagine... Tiramisu crepes. Carrot cake crepes. Cheesecake crepes. That’s what keeps this interesting for me – I get to be creative.”
The Duncan location of Ironworks was an opportunity to even further expand her menu, and Dina took on gluten free and keto-friendly crepes. “I was looking around the world and everyone was doing keto-friendly and gluten-free options. I think you have to look at that stuff” as a business owner, she notes. For healthy eaters, even buckwheat crepes are an option, and Dina is always open to substituting ingredients according to dietary preferences.
Dina is socially conscious as a business operator as well. “I work with Vancouver Island Green Business Association and we have a gold in their eco-friendly rating. We have compostable cups and straws, our papers and napkins are reusable, and I do that because I couldn’t in good conscience open a business without doing it. You have to think about our planet. I also have the Greener Planet crepe on my menu. That was created because we donate from every one of those crepes we sell to efforts to clean up Vancouver Island beaches. We like to help keep our island beautiful.“
Dina came to Vancouver Island from Ontario at the age of 17 and says that of all the 103 countries she has visited, Vancouver Island is her “absolute favourite place in the world. When I get asked that - where would you live if you could live anywhere in the world? - I always say, right here. We have everything, mountains, beaches, good food. It’s beautiful here.”
Dina also loves downtown Duncan, saying that she most enjoys “meandering around. I like going to Just Jake’s in the winter time – have a night cap in front of the fire place and it so cozy. I just re-discovered the Old Firehouse wine bar and I just love it there, too.”
When asked what other aspiring business owners should know about opening a shop in downtown Duncan, she says an important lesson she learned opening her second location is that “people out there that want you to succeed. And they’re willing to help you succeed. I have been so lucky. I had so many people come out of the woodwork and make offers. A lot of offers I didn’t take because I like to do things myself but it was amazing to me how many people had no outside angle but just wanted to help.”
For a crepe escape, make sure to swing by 64 Station Street and have a latte with an apple cinnamon crepe! While you're at it, don't forget to visit all the other great shops in downtown Duncan.