A trio of architecture graduate students are spending their summer in Keller Center's virtual eLab Summer Accelerator Program, refining their recipe for a British culinary staple, the crumpet. Their startup venture, The Crumpet Society, is a quick-service business model centered on the traditional English griddlecake.
The team members who hail from China, Turkey, and yes, the UK, chose to focus on the crumpet because the batter consists of simple ingredients that can be locally sourced and altered for varying dietary needs (vegan, gluten free). Crumpets cook quickly and require minimal space and equipment and are adaptable to both savory and sweet varieties.
They did not account for it but discovered over the 10-week Accelerator program how challenging it would be to get a recipe that creates a consistent product. “Because the crumpet is yeast-based, it can be quite temperamental, temperature and timing makes a big impact on the product, so I spent most of the summer honing our recipe,” said UK native Nathaniel Banks. One of the benefits of this year’s eLab being on a remote platform is that the team could spend most of their time in the kitchen. Banks stirred up over 50 batches of crumpet this summer, trying to attain the ideal recipe.
Initially, the team was working towards a bricks and mortar café-style restaurant. However, as the pandemic hit and restaurants were mandated to close their doors, they did what every good entrepreneur does, pivot, and pivot again. “We experimented with an online-delivered service model, but because our crumpets need toasting to be at peak flavor, we went back to a physical infrastructure. We are looking to minimizing the space, so we are not struggling on the high street with giant rents; we are adapting to a networked micro-store space,” said Banks.
“COVID forced us to rethink our business model quite a bit. Because it is a particularly tough period for any food business, we have had to experiment more with how we are going to make the model financially viable and profitable,” Banks explains.
While Banks does most of the cooking, team members Esra Durukan and Yidian Liu are the brains behind the packaging design and branding. Both are excited to bring their design skills, which they built as architecture students to their venture. They are prototyping packaging that uses minimal sustainable materials to bring a playful, aesthetically pleasing, functional, and instructive element to their brand.
Developing their logo helped the team hit the right tone for their brand. “We originally created a logo which was just a simple illustration of a crumpet, but feedback came in that it looked a bit too biological, almost like a virus, certainly not the right image at this time, so we kept reworking and redesigning until we came up with our current version, the Crumpet Head. This character brings a playfulness to our brand that we hope our customers can connect with and an image that can be customized as our company grows,” Liu explains.
“Although the logo is a little thing, it is extremely important in communicating your brand message. That is why having these ten weeks in the eLab Accelerator to set the tone for the Crumpet Society has been so valuable. It has given us time to clarify our message of healthy, sustainable, affordable, tasty commuter cuisine that has a playful nature,” states Durukan.
The team has been impressed with how supportive and helpful the local restaurant community has been in helping get their concept off the ground. “We have been pleasantly surprised at how willing the business community in Princeton has been in helping develop a new food business. Whether giving advice or in the case of Sakrid Coffee on Nassau Street, letting us do a little pop-up event in front of their cafe, the network has been extremely supportive,” said Banks. At a recent pop-up event, the team served over 100 crumpets in a little over two hours and received rave reviews from customers on the quality and taste of their product and the aesthetics and feel of their stand.
The team is now preparing for the eLab’s end of program pitch event, Demo Day, taking place on Wednesday, August 12th, at 11:30 am. Although this is eLab's 9th Demo Day, it will be the first time the Keller Center will host the event virtually, allowing for a worldwide audience, possibly attracting some interested investors from across the pond to take a look at this modern take on their beloved breakfast cake.