Los Angeles couple find ‘paradise’ and ‘community’ in eastern Idaho with crepe business
REXBURG – Steve Hwong and his girlfriend, Jennifer Kim, were among the thousands who flocked to the Upper Valley in 2017 to see the total eclipse.
They made a trip to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons during their visit and came back in 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Today, the couple considers eastern Idaho their personal paradise, and they’ve found a home running their own business at 155 West Main Street in Rexburg.
Over the weekend, the duo celebrated the grand opening of Space Crepes, offering a variety of crepes with a space-related name. Space Crepes is an extension of their juice, smoothie and boba tea shop called Crush, which they opened in the same location in October 2021.
In a conversation with EastIdahoNews.com, Hwong explained the idea behind both businesses is to provide a space where customers can feel a sense of community while experiencing something new and different.
“Rexburg really needed a space where people can chill, find community, find friends or go on a date, so that’s how we came up with this whole concept,” Hwong says. “That was our main focus.”
Hwong grew up in Los Angeles, where boba tea shops are common. There were at least a dozen within walking distance of his home, he says.
The crepe concept is his own twist on another food item that saturated the streets of his hometown.
“I’ve had some high-end crepes, but ours are equal, if not better, and we have so many different flavors. They’re all handmade,” Hwong explains. (EastIdahoNews.com sampled some of the crepes, which you can watch in a story later this month.)
And he’s hoping to open more locations throughout the U.S. if all goes well. It’s a vision Hwong says is fraught with irony. He and Kim have no prior experience in the restaurant industry and never intended to open one in the first place.
A stargazer’s paradise and an entrepreneur’s dream
When the Los Angeles couple first came to Rexburg, they were students at Berkeley majoring in environmental economics. Hwong was enrolled in an astronomy course at the time, a subject that’s always fascinated him, and the eclipse made Rexburg a must-see destination.
The eclipse made Hwong realize that eastern Idaho was a gold mine for novice stargazers like him.
“Yellowstone is one of the premier spots for stargazing because there’s not as many city lights,” he says.
Craters of the Moon is another stellar (pun intended) locale for stargazing, Hwong says.
With Rexburg being so close to Yellowstone, he and Jennifer spent a lot of time hiking the trails and enjoying the wildlife and remoteness of the area.
In 2020, they returned to experience it all again as schools and businesses across the nation shut down.
“We were literally in our tents with a hotspot, working remotely,” says Hwong. “Right after we finished, we’d pack up to drive out and see some buffalo. It was a unique opportunity as we tried to make the best of the situation. It was like paradise.”
Then winter came, and Yellowstone closed. It was cold, and the duo were forced to find a place to live. When they settled into an apartment, they determined there weren’t a lot of things to do in Rexburg.
They looked for a space that suited their restaurant concept and got to work.
“I tricked myself (into thinking) it’s like a glorified lemonade stand — it can’t be too hard. And I went headfirst into it,” Hwong explains.
Books and Youtube videos provided a crash course in restaurant design for Hwong and the renovation process was on-the-job training for him.
“That’s how I made this space what it is,” he says.
And providing crepes with names like Taro Galaxy, Solar Flare, Black Hole and Down to Earth gives customers a taste of Hwong’s cosmic vision.
‘I love it here’
Life in Rexburg is much different for Steve and Jennifer than it was in California. Living in a place where the vast majority of people are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not something they’re used to.
Though it was a concern when they first arrived, Hwong says they’ve been received with open arms, and they’re grateful to be part of a community.
“We’ve felt very welcome. The LDS community is very diverse,” he says. “I love it here.”
Living in the midst of Yellowstone and the Tetons is “life-changing” for Hwong, and the quality of life is better than anything he’s experienced in California. He and his girlfriend are planning to remain in Rexburg for the foreseeable future.
While they’re thrilled with the response to the grand opening and hope to see the business grow, Hwong is quick to point out that the business is not the main reason he’s here.
“We’re just trying to have a lot of fun, inventing new things, trying out new flavors, and putting events together for the community. That’s our main focus,” he says.
And he’s also hoping to experience Yellowstone and everything else Idaho has to offer for as long as he can.
“You can go on a trail and not meet a single other person and have the trail to yourself all day,” says Hwong. “That’s what drew us here, and that’s what’s keeping us here, along with the community we’ve found.”