Who’s the Boss? The Woman Behind the Business
By: S.W. Kirch
Meet the other half of the creative Creperie Duo: Karin Derly. Born and raised in Austria, as a young adult, she studied English and History at the University of Vienna. While in graduate school, she decided to apply her English skills by living and working in the U.S.; this was accomplished, in part, by teaching. Whether on the slopes as a ski instructor in Aspen, or as a high school teacher, or, most recently, by training staff as co-owner of the French Alpine Bistro – Creperie du Village, Karin’s background and talent for educating have been essential to the successful founding of the restaurant, which, on Dec. 8th, celebrated its eighth year.
So, rewind to 2011, when Karin, and her French neighbor at the time, Raphael Derly, started to brainstorm ways to make Aspen, sometimes known as, “The smallest big town in the world” a bit more European. Both having grown up as avid skiers, they missed the cozy, alpine feel of many of the small mountain-town restaurants in the Alps. As a first step, Karin immediately recognized Raphael’s talent for interior design, “He was a diamond in the rough, and he needed an outlet.” Over the past eight years, that outlet has become one of the most sought-after restaurants in Aspen. However, while everyone enjoys beautiful artwork, it doesn’t just appear out of nowhere…the artist needs materials, frames, and a gallery. This is where Karin has been able to exercise her own creative potential.
She began by doing what she does best: learning everything she’d need to know to be successful. This careful research, coupled with keen observations, and the conviction that they’d prevail, all combined to lay a solid groundwork for founding the restaurant. And, launch one they did, with very limited funds. That meant that a lot of problems had to be solved. “Usually”, Karin reflected, “when people talk about creativity, they mean art, but if you have a creative mind, that’s how you solve problems.” Problems such as what to do, when, two days before the restaurant was supposed to open, they needed one more table. Karin remembered having seen an old door someone had left up for grabs outside their home. She and Raphael went and claimed it, fitted it with table legs, bought a can a paint, and now, that door is one of the most coveted tables: #9.
No sooner was the table problem solved, though, then at least a dozen other challenges cropped up, demanding attention. These included the hiring of staff (being fluent in multiple languages, including Spanish, has helped immensely), negotiating with suppliers (writing abilities were always a strong-suit), and understanding customers (a degree in history allowed for more cultural understanding). Just how did Karin find the courage to even begin? “My family support level gave me confidence; I was brought up to believe I can do anything I want.” Bolstered by her parents’ gift of a solid foundation from which she could build her life, Karin’s been continually constructing the framework for the artwork.
Her original approach is recognizable in all aspects of the restaurant. In fact, not having had prior experience in the industry, it means that she does things differently than most restaurant owners, but in ways that make sense to her. As a result, there are now high standards and solid systems in place that provide consistency. These are apparent in the checklists and reasonings behind everything at the restaurant, from steps to be followed before they open, to the strategic placement of menu items (tip: the eye automatically goes to the top-right corner, first). Nothing is left to chance. It’s also why Raphael has often noted, “She’s the boss; she’s the brains….I’m the muscle.” Together, they’ve created an oasis of accessible alpine beauty in the middle of the Rocky Mountains.