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A taste of French flavor
Hot dog stands and carne asada carts had best beware. Yuma's parking lot cuisine scene has a new competitor - and it's imported.
Yummy crepes have just arrived from France.
Some folks can't pronounce them. Others don't even know what they are. But folks who stop by Johnny Tomasella's lunch truck and try his little French pancakes swear they're culinary delights that truly speak the international language of "yum."
But before they can dig in, people first have to get over the shock of finding such an unexpected menu item in such a unique spot. Tomasella opened up his crepe truck three weeks ago and it's been parked ever since in the Yuma Mesa Shopping Center in front of the Del Sol Market at the corner of 4th Avenue and 16th Street.
"Lots of people see the sign and they are surprised by my crepes," Tomasella told The Sun on a recent windy afternoon. "But when they try my crepes, you will be even more surprised!"
The new business owner admits that's herding local tastebuds into new territory, but he's taking an optimistically Zen approach to his venture.
"Why not crepes? There are no crepes here (in Yuma), so why not? And I love crepes."
Helping Tomasella make the argument for crepes are his hand-painted signs, which have already proven successful at reeling in curious appetites.
The crepes - made from flour, water, milk and egg - are served in two styles: salty and sweet. The salty crepes are stuffed with potatoes and blue cheese or maybe spinach and mushrooms. For more all-American tastes, he's even invented a hog dog crepe.
The sweet versions, meanwhile, offer up a combination of everything from fresh fruit and Nutella to cream fillings and ice cream or white chocolate.
"The salted crepes are for breakfast or lunch or dinner, and then there are sweet crepes for dessert or just for pleasure."
Tomasella moved to Yuma from the southwest region of France 10 months ago. Before selling crepes, he worked for a local security business.
He said that prior to America, he served in the French Foreign Legion for 15 years. When asked if it's more difficult to serve in the military or sell crepes in the American desert, Tomasella just laughed.
"It's my own business, so it's hard. In the Army, if I didn't want to work really much I could still eat," he said. "No, it is a pleasure to work here."
To explain how he ended up in Yuma, his answer was once again quite Zen: "It was my destiny."
The parking lot is miles from a French sidewalk cafe, but Tomasella does his best to create a quaint environment for his customers. His gleaming white truck and all the signs bear his personal artistic decorations.
The counter is decked out with several smart-looking stools and French magazines with Tomasella's address cut out. A bouquet of fresh flowers is usually on the counter, if Tomasella wakes early enough to purchase them.
He's waking up pretty early, too. His serving hours are 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. - seven days a week.
"If I make enough money, I want to employ someone in time. But it's very hard to start, to make enough money to be cool."
Tomasella, who moved to Yuma with his wife and two children, quickly added that he misses his children because he's working such long hours.
In addition to crepes, he offers coffee drinks, milkshakes and sodas. As a business move, he's even added candy bars, chips and slushes.
The crepes, however, have been well received by the Yuma public, and Tomasella already has some regular diners.
"I have a cowboy who comes and has the country crepes, of course. I have a family who comes often, too. The little girl came one day for her birthday and I was so touched. She wanted to come here to eat a crepe for her birthday."
Tomasella stressed that Americans certainly do know good food, although he admits he might be a little biased.
"I might not be a good example because I love America so much. Until I was 12 years old, I wanted to be an American Indian!
"Lots of people here like to eat simply, with good food and whole ingredients. I think the American people know something about taste."
Darin Fenger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6860.