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Crepes for a cause! New Houston sweet shop borrows TOMS shoes' profit & philanthropy model

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Sweet Paris has a great location and a stunning look. Courtesy of Sweet Paris Crêperie & Cafe
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As if anyone needs an excuse to eat crepes  . . .  Photo by David Sayeg
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News_Sweet Paris_creperie_Rice Village_May 2012_crepes

How many gimmicks does it take for me to eat a crepe? Zero. Crepes are so delicious that they sell themselves.

Everyone knows that. That's why in Europe they are sold on street corners, like crack.

Combine Houston's relative lack of the sweet and savory treats (Melange Crêperie's two mobile carts excepted), a location in bustling Rice Village and a shabby chic interior that looks like it could double as a Nancy Meyers movie set, and it seems like Sweet Paris Crêperie & Cafe has plenty going for it already.

 It's the same philosophy that has made an immense success of TOMS Shoes — incorporating a philanthropic element into the business model to inspire passionate consumers. 

But owners Ivan Chavez and Allison Young are giving Houstonians another good reason to stop in for a crepe when the store opens next Sunday: Sweet Paris is donating a portion of its proceeds to feed the hungry.

Not for opening day. Not for a special beribboned promotional month. Every day.

In a trademarked program called "Eat Here, Feed There," for every crepe sold Sweet Paris will donate the monetary equivalent of one fortified meal to the United Nations World Food Programme.

It's the same philosophy that has made an immense success of TOMS Shoes — incorporating a philanthropic element into the business model to inspire passionate consumers. Sweet Paris certainly isn't the first to try to replicate that success.

High-minded consumers can now buy glasses, blankets, watches, soaps, toothbrushes, boots and more with the promise that the same good will be donated to someone in need.

But can the same concept work in the service industry? Food is slightly different than consumer goods in that there's less opportunity for word-of-mouth publicity — nobody is going to stop you and ask you where you got your lunch, at least not once you finish eating it. But if there's a diminishing utility for charitable food, in Sweet Paris' business model there is also a lower stake. While every crepe bought equals one meal donated, according to the United Nations website each meal provided only costs a quarter so it's not exactly a one-for-one ratio.

Considering the tight margins most start-ups work with, though, that's still a worthy commitment.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons beyond the charitable tie-in to check out Sweet Paris. They are serving classic and inventive crepe recipes — from strawberry and nutella to s'mores to Tex-Mex and Asian flavors. There are even rotating batter flavors, including curry, chocolate and gingerbread, plus a vegan-friendly option. Also on the menu are paninis, a Houston Dairymaids cheese plate and fruit glaces.

The indulgent drinks menu includes espresso-based coffees, beer, wine, sangria, mimosas and a signature Frozen Nutella Hot Chocolate.

Are you excited about Sweet Paris opening? Does the Eat Here, Feed There program make you more likely to patronize them?

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