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Columbia Business Monthly

Say Hello to Bonjour Crêpe

Oct 13, 2021 11:17AM ● By Amanda Capps

Eleventh in our series in partnership with the Hispanic Alliance

By Amanda Capps

Photos by Amy Randall Photography

Anyone who hears the beautiful Venezuelan vibrato in chef Mayra Gallo’s voice might expect South American flavors, but no one is disappointed by the amazing array of authentic French crêpes on her menu.

Gallo, along with two others, created a thriving crêperie at 20 South Main Street in Greenville in 2016.

With a desire to bring something different to the city’s already diverse range of cuisine, Gallo conducted extensive research and collected countless recipes before opening Crêpe du Jour. Life was sweet until the pandemic hit, and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster ordered restaurants to cease dine-in service in March 2020. 

Soon after the shutdown, Gallo received even more surprising news; her business associates had declared bankruptcy — without her knowledge. She immediately phoned her friend, local attorney Will McKibbon, who had consulted with her on professional matters in the past.

“I knew just enough about bankruptcy law to be dangerous, but I told her she was going to weather this storm,” McKibbon said.

From Crêpe du Jour to Bonjour Crêpe

Fast forward a bit, and Gallo was able to reincorporate as the sole owner, securing nearly all of the business’s assets. As an added bonus, McKibbon became an investor.

“The restaurant business was the last thing I ever expected to be part of my professional existence, but I love it,” he said.

They reopened the first day they were allowed to do so, and the restaurant known as Crêpe du Jour became Bonjour Crêpe, an iteration of the restaurant that McKibbon says is an expression of Gallo’s vision.

“She’s the talent in this operation; this is her baby, her dream,” McKibbon said. He added that it’s a given that Gallo is an incredible chef and marveled at the way she makes crêpes “with such fluid motion.”

Patrons can see her expert technique for themselves when visiting the restaurant, which features an open kitchen.

“The key is having the right tools,” Gallo said, modestly diminishing her role in producing a food that has vexed many an amateur, as well as seasoned chefs. The delightful delicacy that some say is the gourmet version of a pancake comes in both sweet and savory forms. 

The latter includes the mushroom, spinach and cheddar jack crêpe served with béchamel sauce and “la mornay,” topped with luscious mornay sauce, of course, and filled with smoked turkey, truffle au gratin potatoes and bacon.

The sweet side of the menu features fantastic French staples like crème brûlée crêpes and the Main Street crêpe, an almond cream cheese mousse confection with strawberry or blueberry coulis.

Although McKibbon bills himself as “just a business advisor,” Gallo says he’s a fortress of moral support who happens to have a flair for marketing and décor.

He described the previous interior look as modern, sleek and cool, but he and Gallo decided that “cool” might translate to “cold” and opted for a wealth of warmth and color for the new establishment. Gallo said the atmosphere is cozy and tasteful and now infused with art, fresh flowers and fun. 

Coming Soon: Bonjour Main

“It was attractive before, but I thought, ‘Hey, let’s French café this place up,’” McKibbon said. Live music will be part of the mix in coming months as Gallo and McKibbon complete the restaurant’s transformation with the new moniker Bonjour Main. 

Famous crêpes in all delectable varieties will still headline the menu, but the new name signifies the addition of noteworthy options for the post-brunch hours. Fresh salads and cosmopolitan cocktails complement the headliners, and the menu includes a standout chicken pesto sandwich on French bread and a Monte Cristo McKibbon says should come with a disclaimer about adding a few extra hours to the workout routine.

Discussing whether the Upstate would embrace French cuisine, Gallo and McKibbon agreed the surroundings make a culture that might seem aloof as inviting as it should be. McKibbon said French nationals who have eaten there remarked on its irrefutable roots.

When Gallo decided crêpes were the way of her future, she called on the father of one of her best friends, a chef in France, to advise her on this specific artform. 

“She’s done an amazing thing to have food that’s so genuine and make it appeal to traditional Southern boys like me,” McKibbon said, noting that he’s happily added escargot to the list of dishes in Gallo’s repertoire he would order on a regular basis.

Entrepreneurship and Citizenship

Long before the Covid crisis, Gallo faced another life-changing ordeal. She and her family were comfortable in Venezuela where she was actually an attorney. Amid a tumultuous political climate, they made the difficult decision to leave the country. Seeking a safe environment for their two children, they moved to Miami in 2005. 

There, Gallo began making a vocation of sweet treats as the owner of a Nestle franchise where the primary fare was the company’s classic chocolate chip cookies. Her entrepreneurial efforts were fortuitous en route to U.S. citizenship; she and her then-husband were thinking strategically, and business ownership helped secure permanent residency status.

The road to an American-based crêperie was a slow and winding one, however, as Gallo spent several years at home with her children and then had to restart her professional life after a divorce.

In the interim, she took classes at Greenville Technical College where she learned valuable skills related to the business side of running a restaurant and worked on her English. She eventually became a sous chef at a place she used to patronize before fully forming her plan.

The trip to citizenship also proved circuitous. Despite her residency status, Gallo said the process was extensive and expensive.

With that in mind, she became an advocate for others facing similar challenges, serving as a spokesperson for business owners via the ABIC (American Business Immigration Coalition).

During a trip to Washington on their behalf, she spoke to Senator Tim Scott about issues on the home front and met a representative of the local Hispanic Alliance, another organization she admires and supports.

Gallo’s son Mauro Martin is now an industrial engineer, and her daughter Maria Martin is a senior computer engineering major at Clemson. Her desire is to represent other families experiencing the obstacles she’s encountered.

“I want to help essential workers . . . farm workers . . .TPS [those with temporary protected status]. I want to help all the dreamers to achieve those dreams,” Gallo said.