Cup 21

Person: Torya Blanchard

Place: Good Girls Go To Paris Crepe, Detroit, Michigan 

Date: December 18, 2010

 You only get one life—make the most of it.

Torya Blanchard was caught shoplifting when she was 15—a few weeks before a trip to Paris for her 16th birthday. When she got home, her mother’s furious words were simple, “Only good girls go to Paris!”

Her mother doesn’t remember the scolding, but it’s something Torya will never forget. Fifteen years after that trip to Paris, Torya decided to open a creperie in Downtown Detroit and knew exactly what to name it—Good Girls Go to ParisCrepes.

A few months ago I was at a conference in Detroit, when I overhead a few snippets of a conversation happening next to me, something about a can’t-miss crepe shop. When I got back to East Lansing I did some research and discovered Good Girls and its owner, Torya Blanchard, the “Francophile, fashionista and fearlesscrepe-maker.”

With a description like that, I knew I needed to talk to her.

So there I was, sitting in the small shop, with its boldly painted red walls lined with French film posters and a large menu of crepe options that made my mouth water. The woman at the counter told me Torya was on her way, and offered me a cup of coffee. I found a table where I could watch the employees making the crepes, which brought back great memories of my two trips to Paris.

When Torya walked in, her big smile and loud “hello” shook me out of my trip down memory lane. I stood up to introduce myself, reaching to shake her hand. She ignored my gesture, instead giving me a big hug—talking continuously as she grabbed herself a cup of coffee and pulled up a chair at my table.

I didn’t know what to expect from the meeting, but I was sure of one thing: it was going to be fun. Torya has personality that fills the room. It wasn’t just her big smile and booming voice, it was also her Ray Ban glasses and hair with a mind of its own. She had a quirky demeanor that mixed a cool composure with contagious enthusiasm, which made swapping stories even more entertaining.

Torya had been working on an engineering degree at Michigan Tech when she decided it was too boring for her taste. She’d run into a woman at a Study Abroad Fair, who told her about an opportunity to work in Paris as an au pair. Torya had loved the idea—a two-year adventure in Paris would give her time to figure out a new direction for life. So she’d booked her ticket, packed her bags, and taken off across the ocean. By the time her trip had ended, she’d known what she wanted to do. She had transferred to Wayne State, earned a degree in French and started teaching at a Detroit high school.

Torya had enjoyed teaching French. She’d lined her walls with her French film posters and told stories about the French culture. She’d loved getting to know the students, and although the administrative tasks might have been draining at times, she had had no plans to leave her job.

Until a seemingly insignificant thing happened.

Torya had left work on a Thursday afternoon to catch a spinning class, but when she’d gotten there, the class was empty. She had come on the wrong day. The mix-up had bothered her, and she’d though, “Really, Torya? Your life is so busy and complex; you can’t get to a spinning class on the right day? This is what your life has come to?

The moment had made her notice something she hadn’t noticed before. She wasn’t as happy with life as she knew she could be. She’d decided to get on a bike anyways and do some thinking—take an inventory of her life.

She had asked herself a basic question: What do I love to do?

She knew she loved people, and loved French culture, but how could she combine the two? A restaurant? The only thing she knew how to cook was crepes.

In fact, she had admitted, she loved making crepes.

That’s when it had clicked—right there on a bike in an empty exercise room, Torya had realized exactly what she needed to do. She would leave her teaching job of five years and open a crepe shop.

A few days later, she had walked past an empty storefront where a hotdog stand had recently shut down. It was just a small 48-square-foot shop, but to Torya it had been perfect. Her friends and family had thought she was crazy, but she hadn’t cared. It’s what she now calls her “Fight Club moment”—the moment she had decided to go all-in, to risk everything to make the dream a reality. She’d called the number on the for-sale sign, cashed in her 401k and gotten to work.

It had taken months of planning, long hours, and a lot of elbow grease before the day she had been anxiously awaiting finally arrived: when she opened the doors for her first customers.

Between the delicious crepes, Torya’s welcoming personality, and the support of a tight-knit group of Detroit entrepreneurs, word about Good Girls spread, and her business took off. Within a few months, Good Girls had outgrown the small store-space and upgraded to a larger location.

Torya had traded in the security of a comfortable 9-to-5 life as a teacher, for a job that required late nights, early mornings, and all the mental and physical energy she had, but now she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Even after the most hectic and exhausting day at the store, she still wakes up the next day excited to go back and do it all again.

I asked Torya how she had dealt with the inevitable stress of the decision to start Good Girls.

She said it had been stressful, but that wasn’t going to stop her—the crepe store was something she’d had to do. “When I get older,” she said candidly, “I want to look back and say I did everything I wanted to do.”

It was such a simple statement, but a profound reminder that we only live once—we have one shot to make life everything we want it to be. That’s an idea thats often forgotten as we get caught up in the to-do lists of day-to-day life. Torya hasn’t forgotten it. She tries to squeeze the most out of every moment of her life. The result is a girl who’s full of life and a contagious spirit.

When I left Good Girls, my mind was racing with thoughts: What do I love? What do I really want out of life? Am I really happy with where I am?

I couldn’t answer all the questions sparked by the conversation with Torya, but Cup 21 made me realize these are questions I have to keep asking, until I discover a dream that’s worth risking everything to make happen. That moment might be tomorrow; it might be when I’m 30. Whenever it happens, I’ll think about Torya’s ”Fight Club moment” and the courage and determination she had to get the most out of life.

Because if I’ve only got one shot at life, why wouldn’t I do everything possible, so that I too can someday look back at my life and say, “I did everything I wanted to do”?