– Words by Laura Langston Photography by Don Denton
Dina Stuehler is proof that casual conversations with friends over coffee can lead to successful and satisfying careers. Providing, that is, you have Dina’s dedication and drive.
“As a teen, I loved cafés,” Dina says. “I’d spend a lot of time in them drinking coffee with friends, and I’d always say, wouldn’t it be great to own a place like this.”
After eight years of working on cruise ships and travelling the world, Dina was ready to return to the island and turn her teenage dream into reality. So, in March 2018, she opened Ironworks Café and Crêperie in Ladysmith. That was quickly followed by her Duncan location in November of 2019, the Nanaimo Ironworks Café and Crêperie location in December 2020, and in January 2022, the Ironworks Café and Crêperie in Port Alberni.
Named in honour of the iron griddles on the crepe pan, all four Ironworks locations offer locally roasted, high-quality coffee and sweet or savoury crepes made from scratch, many of which can be tweaked to suit a variety of dietary preferences. Dina’s goal in opening her cafes was clear: to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere where people could come any time to enjoy coffee and crepes.
It was important to her that people feel as relaxed in her cafés as they would feel at home. This is key because Dina believes that offering delicious food and fantastic coffee is only part of creating a friendly and hospitable ambiance. She also recognizes quality ingredients prepared with care are important too. And as a lover of both coffee and crepes, she wanted to offer the best of both.
“During my travels, I visited coffee plantations in Indonesia, Peru, Colombia and Mexico, and that deepened my appreciation for the work involved in producing a good cup of coffee,” she says. “But it was travelling through Italy that fine-tuned things for me because the Italians really know how to make a good cup of coffee.”
That influence led Dina to exclusively offer Caffé Umbria artisan coffee at all Ironworks locations.
“It’s an Italian medium roast, although we offer dark roast as an option,” she says. “We get a lot of compliments on our coffee.”
Because Dina grew up in a Dutch household where crepes were a weekend tradition, pairing crepes with coffee was a natural choice.
“As a kid, after my mother taught me how to make crepes, I took over the crepe-making tradition at home,” she explains. “I’d get crazy with a pile of different combinations, but almost always a fruit filling and maple syrup or something with Nutella.”
She laughs, “I was addicted to banana Nutella crepes.”
Even today, when asked to pick her favourite sweet crepe on the menu, Dina opts for the decadent Caribbean Dream—sliced bananas with Nutella topped with cream cheese icing and toasted coconut.
Ironically, it was only when Dina decided to open her creperie that she tasted a savoury crepe for the first time, subsequently developing an appreciation for them as well. Her current favourite on the savoury side is the spinach, artichoke and Brie crepe.
“It’s such a complement of flavours: the earthiness of the artichoke combined with the saltiness of the Brie and the fresh green of the spinach, topped with a maple sauce and Parmesan cheese. It’s a real culinary experience of flavours.”
Having a culinary experience at Ironworks is easy, even for those with specific dietary needs or restrictions, because Dina strives to be inclusive.
“I’ll make as many different changes as necessary to accommodate as many people as possible,” she says. “I see it as an opportunity.”
For instance, when one of her team members started a keto diet, Dina created menu options for her, and took the opportunity to offer the same keto options to her customers. Today, patrons can choose from a variety of crepe batters (original Belgian; gluten-free buckwheat; whole wheat vegan; or coconut almond keto) and many filling options too.
Many of the 13 sweet crepes on the menu can be made vegan with everything from a house-made vegan chocolate sauce to coconut whipping cream. The eight savoury crepes benefit from the same flexibility with various vegan cheese, yogurt and milk options.
Regardless of how Ironworks customers choose to tweak their crepes (or not!), the consistent top sellers across all four locations are the breakfast crepe, the Mexican breakfast crepe and the four-berry crepe. The monthly feature crepes are also popular, ranging from sweet pumpkin spice crepe and savoury turkey dinner crepe in the fall to spring offerings like the savoury smoked salmon, shrimp and Swiss cheese crepe and the sweet fresh strawberry and tart lemon curd crepe.
While Dina is considering the possibility of franchising down the road, her primary goals centre on her existing locations.
“I’m working on a renovation in Ladysmith to increase the patio and overall size,” she says. “And most of all, I’m focusing on making each of my four locations the best they can be for our team members and for our customers. Above all, we want to create memorable experiences for everyone.”
Check out the locations and menus here at Ironworks Cafe & Creperie