In 1989, when he was just 18 and newly arrived from Russia, Mikhail Rybak got his first job: an entry-level position as dishwasher at Deli Unique in Oak Park. Two years later, his future wife, Vanda Fradlis, then 16, also emigrated to the United States from Russia, and she too started her American life with a job at a deli, Stage and Company in West Bloomfield, where she worked as a hostess, despite the fact that she spoke little English.
The couple met through friends in the small Russian community when Mikhail, now “Mike,” was 20 and Vanda 17. They got married five years later. Both quickly moved up the ladder at their jobs — Mikhail to prep cook and Vanda to manager. Their American dream was to open their own restaurant. But despite years of deli experience, they had no plans to serve pastrami sandwiches.
They had a different idea: to create a menu combining a wide array of soups with an even longer list of crepes. “Creperies are big in Russia,” says Mike. “You see them everywhere.”
Russian crepes (blinchiki), he explains, are much simpler than the French, with embellishments such as organic honey, or butter and powdered sugar, or black or red caviar, rather than the sturdy fillings of shrimp, salmon, and chicken that characterize French crepes.
Vanda and Mike soon started to scout for a location. They spotted a storefront in Farmington Hills and they decided it was ideal because a place called Grilled Cheese and Tomato soup had just closed there. Surely, they thought, their soup repertoire would find a ready audience there — and crepes, both French and Russian, would add to the appeal.
The couple compiled recipes from both sides of the family and came up with no less than 32 varieties of soup. Mike calls them a “celebration” of both families. Vanda’s aunt, accomplished soup maker Genya Gotfried, signed on to help, and she oversees the kitchen. To complete the family feeling, daughter Hanna, 16, and son Max, 12, help out, as well.
Souptastik Crepes opened in mid-June and has been attracting a loyal following. Nine soups are available each day, featuring split pea, cream of mushroom, lobster bisque, and borscht, of course, as well as another Russian soup, solyanka, which is so similar to jambalaya, that’s how it’s listed on the menu to help patrons unfamiliar with it.
Soups are served in attractive white crocks from the array behind the counter, where diners order and then have their choices delivered to their table. In addition to soups and crepes, the couple serves fresh green salads and Illy coffee, as well as cappuccino, latte, and espresso. All of this gives Souptastik Crepes a distinctly European feel.
As for the early success of this offbeat eatery, Mike gives all the credit to his wife.
“It’s really hers,” he says.
Souptastik Crepes, 32407 Northwestern Hwy.,
Farmington Hills; 248-539-2300.