The “magic” of the Magic Pan restaurant

The “magic” of the Magic Pan restaurant

**UPDATE** I have added several additional posts. These include some recipes, as well as links to cookbooks and a crepe machine!  Start here to find the recipes

I suppose most, if not all of you dear readers are not old enough to remember the Magic Pan restaurant.  While reading the textbook “Service Management” by Fitzsimmons, I was taken back to the restaurant of my youth, and reminded once again of those wafer-thin crepes, and the delightful fillings that so often filled our Sunday afternoons.MagicPanLOGO

The text book, in discussing quality control in delivering a service, mentions the “foolproof machine” that the Magic Pan designed to cook their crepes.  (For that same upside down pan, perfect crepe experience, try the VillaWare V5225 Crepe Maker) I remember it like it was yesterday, and yes–it was a great example of standardizing a service delivery process. It was one of the “coolest” cooking devices I have ever seen.  The device was a carousel that would hold the crepe pans upside down, while a circle of gas flames heated them from below.  Rather than the traditional approach of pouring the “right amount” of batter into the pan, and then rocking the pan to cover the surface evenly, they literally flipped the idea on its head.

The “chef” would first place a pan, upside down, on the carousel, allowing it to make a few slow revolutions, and thus get up to temperature.  After that, they would remove a pan, wiping the bottom of the pan on a towel that had been embedded with some form of “lubricant” (either butter or vegetable oil).  They would then dip the underside of the pan (yes, the outside!) in the batter.  Once coated, they would place the pan (again face down) on the carousel, where it would cook the crepe evenly.  As a kid, I would love standing there and just watching, watching, watching…

This approach did a few things that guaranteed consistency of delivery:

  • The batter on the bottom of the pan meant that they always had the “right” amount of batter for each crepe
  • The constant rate of the carousel meant they were always cooked correctly, never over or under cooked.
  • By having many slots around the carousel, they were able to “manufacture” a large number of crepes with only one chef.

All pretty doggoned innovative!

So, of course, thinking about the Magic Pan again after so many years set me off on a Google search for the demise of the ‘Pan, and perhaps to find some recipes.  Well I found that, and more!

Let’s start with the “and more.” It turns out that the Magic Pan is back!  Now the Magic Pan of my memories was a rather nice, upscale, yet casual, dining room with great food.  The new Magic Pan is actually a “food court” provider of the same recipes.  According to “Cathy2” at LTHForum the Magic Pan has as the culinary roots to heart of the original, but appears to be an all new restaurant.  As she writes:

I talked to the manager who advised they had the original chef-trainer from the old Magic Pan fly in from San Franciso to reproduce and train their people for several original Magic Pan dishes: Original Spinach Souffle Crepe; Original Chicken Divan Crepe; Original Crepe Suzette; Original Strawberries and Sour Cream Crepe; Original Chantilly Crepe and Original Cherry Royale Crepe. I remember vaguely the old Magic Pan closed abruptly I believe due to bankruptcy. The manager didn’t remember the circumstances, though he knew all 240+ Magic Pan restaurants closed in one day across the country.

Now, I find that to be quite interesting.  All closed–in one day! Wow.

I am somewhat disappointed to learn that they are not using the same innovative cooking machine that I loved watching as a kid.  According to Cathy2:

Magic Pan 2005 is no longer a sit down restaurant, it is a fast food crepe stall. There is no large ring of gas with upside down smooth bottom frying pans with dipped crepe batter cooking as it rotates over the circuit. Instead there are three large flat iron plates to cook the crepe batter. The cook selects from buckwheat, cornmeal or wheat flour crepe batter and pours a measured quantity on the pan. Using a t-stick paddle he smoothes and spreads the batter to the outer edges. Once cooked, the crepe is filled and presented to the customer.

I hope to someday learn more about the reasons for the demise of the Magic Pan, and perhaps even how widespread the “ROMP” (return of Magic Pan) may be.   Until then, I will be trying out some of the recipes I found online, and seeking to take a trip down that culinary memory lane.

UPDATE: 30 Dec 2009. In the meantime, I will tell you that I have found a great machine (the VillaWare V5225 Crepe Maker) for making my own crepes at home.  It uses the same “upside down” approach in an all-in-one griddle.  It works great, and I highly recommend it to any of you.


204 thoughts on “The “magic” of the Magic Pan restaurant

  1. @STEPHEN MYLES CURRAN – 7 Corners? I worked there probably a few years before you. Simi, Mark, Gwen, Kevin, Rosa, Gloria…various managers because we were a training restaurant. We were like a family. We dressed up for Halloween one year…I can’t remember the name of the one guy who was a baby.

    So much fun.

  2. I worked at the Magic Pan at Briarwood Mall in Ann Arbor while I was attending University of Michigan. I started out as a ‘chef’ on the rotating pan wheel; they turned the crepe-making rotating machinery into a saute station for ‘fancier’ dinners at night. There were a few good recipes, and I learned a lot about cooking and sauteeing from this place. I was put on crepe duty a few times. I hated it. Getting the temperature right, getting the right amount of oil on the bottom of the pan, getting the rhythm of taking hot crepes off and putting new pans on was nearly impossible. Sometimes I would achieve it, and would make perfect stacks of crepes. But more often than not it was a maddening experience, with half-formed crepes falling off into the batter bucket (too much oil, or too hot a pan) or crepes returning after a rotation either raw or burned, or not coming off the pan at all. If one crepe didn’t cooperate it would stop the entire process as each pan would need to be re-oiled, re-heated, and the whole apparatus started again. I hated making crepes.
    I eventually graduated from sautee chef/crepe maker (ugh) to waiter/bartender. This was much more fun and lucrative. However, the writing was on the wall for the chain: the management began putting major pressure on the waitstaff to upsell, and to bring in larger and larger ‘check averages.’ Those with the best ‘check averages’ would get first dibs on shifts. We were required to attend marketing meetings (unpaid) where we were taught various sales techniques, some of them downright unscrupulous. For instance, we were instructed to say, ‘Would you like a bread basket with that?’ after the drink orders were placed. (We were also instructed to suggest name brand liquor over well drinks, and were expected to push selling an entire bottle of wine over single glasses, etc.) The problem with this suggestion was that the bread basket: six pieces of grilled garlic bread with a cheese dip, cost $. We were told not to say anything about that detail, and just put it on the bill. I refused to do that. The sales push got more and more aggressive. Shortly after I graduated college and moved away I learned the Magic Pan had closed – first that location and then other locations I’d known about. It was sad – it was a favorite place for many people. But I was not a fan of using psychological tricks to make customers spend more money.

  3. This was so fun to come across. Magic Pan at South Coast Plaza (Costa Mesa, CA) was pretty much our favorite treat growing up. And the Monte Cristo sandwich was my favorite. Served as I recall with this amazing raspberry jam, piping hot with melted cheese inside. Must now try and figure out how to recreate it. Thanks for the memories!

  4. My Mother would take us for lunch at the Magic Pan, after our dance classes. We lived in Toronto and there were a couple of Magic Pan’s. We would go to the one downtown and I remember it was decorated with a lot of dark, rich greens. I would always, always order the chicken tarragon as I wasn’t a crepe fan. I wish I could get the recipe, have not been able to find it anywhere.

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