Three years ago I sat in the Starbucks at Chatelet-Les-Halles with a group of friends at our weekly knitting group. We liked Starbucks because of the smoke free atmosphere and the comfy couches. And yes, the mocha blancs were good too. But in Paris, at the time, there were not that many cafés that were like Starbucks. Smoke-free. I mentioned jokingly (though serious in my mind) that I wanted to open a café somewhere in Paris where knitters could come. They were all the rage in the US. Places where knitters could go and buy their yarn and their cappuccinos in the same place.
Even before knitting had become an important part of my life, I always enjoyed café lifestyle. My university town of Lawrence, Kansas has some of the best independent coffee shops I know. Back then I had no idea what Starbucks was. I don't think there were even any in the midwest at that time. I spent hours on end sitting in the Lawrence cafés along Mass Street. Studying. Meeting friends. Or just to escape the buzz of the dorm, I knew I had a place to go to relax. After college, I spent several years between France and the US. I lived in Besançon and had cafés that I called my own. The Bar de l'U by the Fac or the grand café that was off the Rue des Granges near my centre ville apartment. I would go everyday and get my espresso either at the bar if I was late for class or at one of the tables by the courtyard if I had a few hours to kill.
Upon my arrival to Paris in 2003, I had a hard time finding my café. That first summer we lived in the 17th arrondissement near Place de Clichy. The cafés were run down and dark. I don't mind a café that is rough around the edges, I feel like they have stories to tell but these cafés near our Rue Pouchet apartment were not places I could go to relax. Often I'd take my one euro espresso at the bar and leave. I never found a place where I could go and blend in. A year later we moved to our current apartment in the 13th arrondissement. If you know anything about the 17th, Place de Clichy and the 13th, Place d'Italie you will know there is a night and day difference. We had moved into a more residential/ village-y area. Being the small town girl that I was this suited me just fine. Also the area we moved is considered to be in Chinatown and I felt at home right away. Upon our arrival in our new quartier we explored the cafés, we ventured mostly away from the Place d'Italie more towards the Avenue de Tolbiac. Right next to our favorite Pho restaurant is a classic café/salon de thé. Big vitrines to sit in and people watch, the staff very aimable and most importantly they had good coffee. I found a few more places like this peppered through out the 13th. All to my liking except for one thing, they were all smoking cafés. And the non-smoking area was just a few chairs with a partition that didn't really serve for anything but to say, this is the non-smoking area.
Unconsciously, my dream to have my own café was born long ago. It wasn't until I moved to Paris and I couldn't find exactly what I wanted that my dream came to the surface. It remained a dream for several years after our knitting group started meeting at Starbucks. Sometimes I'd look around on the Internet ads for fond de commerce for sale. The prices were much cheaper than buying an apartment. My dream seemed obtainable. But I never called any of the ads, I just talked about my dream with Julien, my friends and family. And doodled ideas in my Moleskine.
At the end of 2005 my life too a drastic turn. I lost my mother. I fell into a deep depression. I lost contact with people in my life. and I lost myself. Somewhere in the middle of 2006, a breath of fresh air had come into my life. I became pregnant with Maximilien. I started to dream again. I wanted to live in the now. Face forward without a moment to spare. 2007 was the year I focused on Max and put any though of a career or café aside. Though not a priority, my desire for this café still remained strong in my dreams.
At the end of last year, friends wanted to get together for Chinese food in our neighborhood. For some reason at the last minute I really wanted to go to brunch. We hadn't been in a very long time and our friends were happy to go along with our plans. We looked in our best of Paris brunch book and found an address in the 13th that we hadn't tried yet. The description of the café sounded like a place I would love. I was surprised we hadn't been before. We packed up Max, met our friends and walked over. The café is small but not too small. Intimate. I went in and asked for a table for four and the server turned us away saying they didn't have a table for four. I saw two tables for two over her shoulder. I responded, "trés bien" and walked out. I went straight to Julien and said there are two tables of two they can push together and urged him to go and insist that we sit down. Why I didn't do it, I really don't know but something was inside of me was insisting that we get in. I just knew that my husband had the charm to get us in. And he did. We were seated and served. I looked around the café and instantly fell in love. My friend's boyfriend noticed and asked me what I was thinking. And for the first time in months, I mentioned my dream of having my own café. And sitting in this café I felt like I was sitting inside my dream. I looked over to the big window that overlooked the busy street and saw that the place was for sale! I got chills. I don't remember what I started to say after that but I do remember how I felt, my heart was racing and I was talking very quickly to Julien. His reaction in his eyes told me he was following what I was saying. We grabbed a business card on the way out and called that day to see if the café was still for sale.
The end of last year was full of waiting, tactics to negotiate the right price, phone tag, silence and finally an acceptance of our offer in January of this year. We signed a promesse de vente in February. Wrote the biggest check of my life. And sent our dossiers to banks for the loan. Then we waited... and waited. And waited. Just like administrative offices in France, banks are just as slow. I did a slow month (I owe an update) and the photo project in February to get my mind off all the waiting. I started to lose hope as a few responses came back negative. The real reasons why they turned us down we are still unsure of. We got the perfunctory letter of rejection with their sterile apologies. I saw my dream disappearing right before my eyes.
Finally, yesterday we heard back from the very last bank we applied to. The banker simply said to Julien over the phone, "Ok, c'est bon". He sent me an SMS with just a simple, "yay :)".
I am going to own my very own Parisian café. I type these words still stunned from the events of the last few months. I can not believe it is all happening. Years of day dreaming all coming true. I am staring at my hands and they are trembling. So, the adventure begins...