Sylvie Le Mer, the founder of wildly popular Mission District creperie Ti Couz, has died, Mission Local reports. She was 60 years old.
Founded in 1992, the 16th Street restaurant was a wildly popular destination throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s, known for its menu of specialty crepes at affordable prices. The spot was a regular on the SF Chronicle’s Top 100 restaurants list and earned a glowing review from then-critic Michael Bauer, who said “Everything about Ti Couz — from the homey decor and friendly service to the way the food comes to the table one crepe at a time — makes this a wonderfully relaxing oasis for a quick bite or longer lingering in the middle of the day.”
At its heart was Le Mer, a Brittany, France-born restaurateur who moved to the U.S. in 1983. Speaking with the Chron in 2007, Le Mer said that her goal with Ti Couz was to recreate the meals she had on her grandparents farm in Finistere, at which Breton-style crepes were prepared in cast-iron pans filled with buckwheat-flour batter and placed over an open fire. Comparing crepes to tortillas or dosa, she said that growing up, crepes were “the equivalent of bread for us,” hence her drive to bring that experience to the States.
Despite the restaurant’s popularity, by 2011, it was struggling under a combination of decreasing sales, food costs, rent, and expenses related to an expansion into an adjoining space. By that summer, it had closed completely, replaced by the Giordano Bros. sports bar.
According to friends who spoke with Mission Local, after the restaurant’s closure, Le Mer returned to France, where some say she grew increasingly isolated and struggled with depression. In a Facebook post, Le Mer’s friend, author LD Sargeant, writes that “whatever darkness she faced, she chose to find the light at the end of a very painful tunnel and transition to a better horizon in her own way the evening of October 24, 2020.”
At a November 2 memorial service outside the former Ti Couz, friends, patrons, and fellow restaurateurs gathered to honor Le Mer, who died near her Brittany hometown. “People came from everywhere to have crepes,” Paula Tejeda, the owner of Chile Lindo Empanadas, told Mission Local.
According to Marco Senghor, the owner of since-shuttered Mission Senegalese spot Bissap Baobab, says that when he arrived in the U.S., Le Mer helped him get his footing in his new country. “She was the one who showed me everything,” Senghor told Mission Local. “She was my mentor.”
Her ties to the community also included work with Sustainable City, a local initiative focused on long-term solutions to San Francisco’s environmental health. In her role with the organization, she worked to develop a sustainable agriculture and food plan, with an eye to the city’s food purchasing and production decisions. She was also a strong backer of public transportation, advocating for improvements to BART’s long-troubled 16th Street station, which was just steps from Ti Couz’s front door.
Those many influences and interests paired well with Le Mer’s understanding of how important community can be. According to Carla Avitabile, an employee of Ti Couz since shortly after it opened, “making a party was really important to her.”
It was that desire for a connection between people that fueled Le Mer, her friends say. Or, as Le Mer said herself in 2007: “You want to share a crepe. The whole interaction of picking and sharing the food — people are really in need of that.”
If you or anyone you know is considering suicide or self-harm or is anxious, depressed, upset, or needs to talk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. For international resources, here is a good place to begin.