Edward Hammatt has worked in all sort of restaurants, from dive bars to some with Michelin stars, in New Orleans.
He started as a food runner, doing nothing but taking plates to tables when he was 16 but he had a good vantage point to watch the chef as he controlled the work flow.
“I had this awesome experience just sitting next to this Michelin-starred chef, watching how he conducted himself,” Hammatt said.
He has no formal culinary school training, but he worked his way up to dishwasher then to cook. His last job in New Orleans was a sous chef in one of the top restaurants, serving breakfast crepes and omelets.
Then his father, Rob, suggested they buy the Perring Building and open a restaurant in Abilene.
Edward moved north and started making plans for the Ortus Café in the south end of the renovated building.
He settled on crepes for his menu.
“I wanted our baseline menu to be simple — four sweets, four savories — and have them adaptable,” Hammatt said. “I wanted them to be familiar and not weird. If you come in, there will be something on that menu that you will like.”
The baseline menu “frees me up to do specials, crazy specials,” he said.
He’s considering apple and cinnamon for sweet; ham, cheddar and chive or a taco crepe with chorizo, cheddar and guacamole sauce for savories.
“Jambalaya crepes could definitely happen,” he said, in a nod to his New Orleans roots.
Savory options include vegetarian choices. He wishes he could offer vegan choices, but crepes are made with eggs, milk and butter. So vegans are limited to coffee drinks and a fruit bowl — “but at least it’s fresh,” he said.
“I’m very proud we don’t own a freezer or a microwave. Everything we do is done fresh from scratch,” he said.
Customers can watch Hammatt spread batter on the two 200-pound cast-iron crepe plates, then fill and fold them. Take-out is available, but Hammatt designed the cafe to be a comfortable place to sit and eat. Much of the seating is along the outside walls, with lots of room between the tables. He didn’t want it to feel cramped.
“I feel comfortable sitting here for an hour, reading a book, working on a laptop, playing a game of chess with a friend,” Hammatt said. “That’s one reason we went the café route rather than a restaurant. I didn’t really want it to be a sit-down, eat-and-get-out restaurant.”
Crepes are something Hammatt can serve, considering it is in the Perring Building.
“We were severely limited in the fact that we can’t install a hood vent in this building,” he said.
Because the building is on the national and state historical registers, the Hammatts can’t alter the outside of the building. The vent would have had to go straight up, through the second floor and the attic, Edward said.
Without the vent, he can’t use fire, gas or air-borne oil.
Also, he “didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes,” he said about the restaurants already existing in the area.
Crepes are something different. Crepes and coffee.
“One of the things that bugged me is we’re lacking a coffee place in town that opens early,” Hammatt said.
Ortus means sunrise in Latin.
Ortus Cafe opens at 6:30 a.m. every day except Tuesday to catch early commuters.
“I wondered what sunrise is in different languages,” Hammatt said of naming the cafe. “I was a Latin scholar in high school. I have a connection with that language.”
After he chose the name, he noticed the stained-glass windows near the 14 foot ceilings, blue and yellow half-circles, just like a rising sun. But the name came first, he said.
The cafe’s official ribbon-cutting was Dec. 5, although Hammatt had an unofficial opening in November, just in time for his 22nd birthday, to get all the kinks worked out.
Meanwhile, Rob Hammatt is continuing to work on the Perring Building. The second floor is completed, one-bedroom and two-bedroom Airbnb apartments. He’s still working on the first floor and hopes to have retail spaces ready to rent in the spring.