How the owners of The Crepe Place fathered an unlikely music venue
Be careful what you wish for over a bubbling bong, because it just might come true. When best friends Adam Bergeron and Eric Gifford were trading tokes as roommates in their early twenties, two decades ago, back when Bergeron was a busboy at The Crepe Place, little could they have known that someday they’d be the responsible ones at the helm of the restaurant.
“It was always a weird, hokey dream over umpteenth zillion bong hits. ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do our own thing and ran our own business?’” Gifford remembers.
Donning a Hawaiian shirt strewn with Giants baseball logos, and sitting in the cozy front room of The Crepe Place, Gifford’s jokey, casual demeanor reflects the vibrant family atmosphere of the haunt. With Bergeron completing the My Two Dads partnership, the two East Coast transplants mull over their history on a quiet weekday afternoon.
The lunch hour lures a tame crowd that’s a far cry from the bustling music scene that packs the place like an overstuffed crepe during big concert nights. As the sounds of jazz stream overhead to mingle with subdued chatting, and the sci-fi scenes of Flash Gordon pulsate on the bar’s television screens, Gifford and Bergeron talk old times.
“I’ll cop to it,” Gifford begins. “I was definitely a hippie kid coming to see the Grateful Dead New Year’s Eve shows.” At the age of 22, he moved from Maine to Santa Cruz after pursuing Jerry Garcia & Co. at the Oakland Coliseum. He landed in a house above DeLaveaga Park with Bergeron. That was 21 years ago. Bergeron, on the other hand, had already made his own hippie way to California after his Connecticut childhood, sharing a Volkswagen bus with three other people and a dog. He was the first one with a foot in The Crepe Place door, back when it was family owned and run by Gary and Marlene Keeley. Today, there remains a plaque on the wall declaring that a spot at the bar is forever reserved for Gary Keeley.
Back when Keeley was the boss, Bergeron was a grunt. But he didn’t go unnoticed. He’d make his way up the ladder; from a 21-year-old bus boy, to a waiter, cook, kitchen manager, and then general manager. At the time, the running joke was that he’d someday take over. “The Keeleys had always said, ‘We’ll sell this to you someday!’” Bergeron says.
Though The Crepe Place has been a popular eating destination in Santa Cruz since it opened in 1973, the amps didn’t start firing up until its current owners took it over in 2007. Bergeron, who owned and booked the 12 Galaxies club in San Francisco, already had a Rolodex filled with band and music industry contacts to start reeling them in. Since he and Gifford joined forces and took the reins, The Crepe Place has become a vendor of both hot gourmet crepes and hot-ticket concerts. Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis recently lent his current musings in the 100-capacity indoor room. No small thing.
At first, The Crepe Place outdoor garden would serve as the music hub. With a canopy of trees, flowering vines and white Christmas lights setting the mood, the very first show was a wispy folk lineup featuring Rachel Fannan (then known as Rachel Williams) and Marissa Nadler. That was in August of 2007. A week later, a proper stage was built. The official Garden Stage was born, and it was broken in by the stomping bluegrass of the Hackensaw Boys.
A defining show that, Bergeron recalls, “was the first super big one, right out of the bat,” the band from Virginia couldn’t have realized it ushered in much more than one successful concert. “The Hackensaw Boys show was the first real deal that made us feel like ‘OK, we can do this.’
“The intention was to do [music] on the back stage the whole time,” says Bergeron, who went on to bring the Akron Family and Sean Hayes to the new Midtown venue under the stars. Three months later, willed by rain and fog, indoor shows started to brew in the front room.
Bergeron, who splits his time living in both San Francisco and Santa Cruz, called upon the likes of singer-songwriter Kelley Stoltz and freak-folk emissaries Vetiver to test out the emerging locale. “I called either them or their agents and said, ‘Hey, we’re doing this thing, come check us out. We’ll feed you and pay you money!’” he re-enacts.
Soon enough, they had plenty on their hands to keep the marquee filled, and Bergeron would step out of 12 Galaxies to be wholly devoted to The Crepe Place. Though he went into it thinking he could man both stages, it wasn’t easy because, as he says, “venues are like kids, they need you to be around.”
Nearly four years later, innumerable acts have loaded in and out of The Crepe Place doors. Personal favorites of the owners include Rhett Miller of the Old 97’s, The Handsome Family, and Frank Black.
“The music that comes through here is also the music we play on the stereo here,” Bergeron says. “It’s the music that we like. And, like most people, some days you listen to a hip-hop record, some days you listen to a Bob Dylan record.”
Weekly free entertainment includes a bellydance showcase by Hélené on Saturday afternoons at 1 p.m., while resident funk Hammond trio 7 Come 11 blazes through a set every Tuesday night at 8 p.m.
Gifford describes the two owners as “the proverbial gay dads,” in relation to their roles overseeing a legion of employees. While he tends to take care of the business aspect and daytime happenings (“He’s the brains of the business,” Bergeron says), Bergeron handles the music booking and most of the nightlife.
The now-established Crepe Place front room, which Gifford adoringly describes as “small, intimate, and stinky when it’s a bunch of hippies,” plays host to touring buzz bands and locals (many who might otherwise remain underground). It’s been an epicenter for the independent music scene despite lacking the typical layout of a music venue.
With the mad rush and uncertainty that goes along with transforming a business into a coveted venue having subsided, Bergeron says he and his longtime buddy are enjoying the sounds of music—and the downtime to be little league coaches to their respective kids. “Life was so crazy for a few years, and now we get to be a little bit normal—or at least as normal as we can be.”
As I leave The Crepe Place watching the pair toss a baseball back and forth in the middle of the restaurant’s entryway, I look at the vast mosaic of framed concert posters covering the red wall behind them. It’s clear that the two have hit one out of the park.
The Crepe Place is located at 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. For more information about the restaurant and its upcoming shows, call 429-6994 or go to thecrepeplace.com. See also blog: Tips for local bands on how to book a show at The Crepe Place >