I am comfortably installed in what may one day be known as the table where I wrote my first bestseller -- in much the same way Hemingway was known to write at a table at the Deux Magots, only I am much less literary. I am sitting smack dab in the middle of my friend Aimee's dream, sipping a delicious cup of Yoga Chai tea. Aimee sewed the cheerful pink and white tablecloth with her own two hands... the first of many personal touches and improvements she'll be making, I have no doubt.
Today, Aimee did something incredibly bold and fabulous: she realized a very big dream. She opened her very own café: L'Oisive Thé. It is a small and totally adorable tea shop located in the 13th, in the picturesque Butte aux Cailles quartier, on the corner of Rue de la Butte aux Cailles and Rue Jean-Marie Jégo, just a short walk from Place d'Italie down Rue Bobillot (nearest metro: Place d'Italie on the #5 and #7 or Corvisart on the #6). The street has a small park and a number of other restaurants, but it's the only tea shop in the area. A l'oisive, by the way, is a "lady of leisure" -- what a great name for a tea shop (not that men of leisure aren't welcome too!)
I am completely jazzed to say that Georges and I happened to be there at the beginning of Aimee's leap into becoming a restauranteur. I hadn't even known this was a particular dream of hers, although some of her other Parisian friends were probably aware of it. Georges and I met Aimee and her husband for lunch one day, and when we hooked up with them, they suggested going to brunch instead because they'd read about a brunch place very near where they live but at which they'd never eaten before. Who doesn't love brunch, right? So off we went, with the others giving me a little run-down on the Butte aux Cailles area, which was new territory for this ex-pat.
While we enjoyed our delightful meal, Aimee kept looking around and saying how cute the place was but how, if it was hers, she might do some things differently. And that's when it came out that she had dreamed of having her own little café for a very long time... more specifically a place where knitters could come and knit (Aimee being a very talented knitter) while they enjoyed some tea, coffee, treats and the company of other knitters. We spent a good part of that brunch brainstorming: what if you put a small sofa over there? What if you took those shelves out and did something else there? Would you put in some Internet access? Should the menu be changed... a liquor license added? Suffice to say it became the major focal point of our conversation.
I can't remember now who it was that first noticed the "For Sale" sign in the window, but by the time we all walked out of there, Aimee's husband had taken the carte de visite and written down the agent's phone number. It couldn't hurt to just call and ask about it, right? We all agreed it should be explored further because you just never know.
Well, here it is a few months later (probably the longest of Aimee's life in some ways, while she negotiated and navigated and tolerated all the hoops and hurdles thrown in front of her on this journey) -- and she's DONE IT! She owns this beautiful little café. Opening day was today!
I wanted to be there right at the opening to take photos and celebrate with Aimee before the day got too crazy for her, and I nearly made it on time... having tripped and fallen on some
freaking very hard Parisian cobblestones in the Place d'Italie as I was rushing to get there (my entire body aches and my knee is pretty banged up, but otherwise no major harm done, fortunately!) I arrived just a few minutes after 11am, official opening time, to find the door open and Aimee and a helper inside setting things up. The new tablecloths were in place, but the food delivery was a bit late so the serveuse was going to pick up the salad fixin's on her way into work. After hugging and jumping up and down a bit with Aimee, I took some photos and she made me my first cup of tea -- I was the first customer!
The delivery arrived and was sorted and put away... Aimee and the ladies started chopping crudités for salads and continuing to get organized. Fortunately, this tea shop had been in operation for some time and has a regular clientele, and the serveuse is a "legacy" employee, very experienced and pleasant. When starting out in the restaurant business it's always easier to take over an existing successful business, and then little by little you can adjust it to your own tastes once you get into the swing of things.
I sipped my wonderful tea, gazing out the window at passers-by and neighborhood activity. The restau on the adjacent corner started to open up for business, the owner out front scrubbing the entry pavement with a brush while simultaneously smoking and talking to her mignon little terrier. The dog seemed to know all the neighbors, who stopped to speak to it or pat it on the head as he stood in the doorway watching his small world with great excitement: the "guard dog" of the Butte aux Cailles... at least in HIS mind. A woman walked by, stuffing a large bottle of wine into her oversized purse; I found myself hoping that wasn't going to be her entire lunch, but you never know. An upstairs neighbor shook the dust out of a small carpet... never minding the people below walking by. A typical Parisian neighborhood.
As lunch time rolled around, I decided to stay and enjoy something off the menu. The menu is very light and suitable to a tea shop: salads, small quiches, desserts and of course dozens of varieties of tea to choose from (as well as great coffee and other soft drinks) so if you're into eating light and fairly healthy at lunch, this is a great place to go. I chose a feuilleté chèvre, salad crudités et fromage, and it was just wonderful.
During the first hour or so, I was the sole customer, but in the past the café didn't open until noon so the locals probably didn't realize they could come in an hour earlier. And prime time for tea shops if, of course, afternoon tea. But as 12:30 approached, a man came in -- clearly a regular because he bise'd (uh, that's "kissed on both cheeks") the two helpers and greeted Aimee with a handshake before installing himself at a table, as comfortable as can be. A woman followed, coming in to purchase her favorite tea to take home. And so it began, with people in pairs, mostly, coming in for their lunch and some tea. I could see it was going to be a very good first day and Aimee was so thrilled to see so many people already.
After finishing my lunch I decided I should give up the table to make room for whomever might come in next and want to enjoy a nice meal or revitalizing cup of tea before heading back to their daily grind. Aimee was just glowing, and it warmed my own heart to see her happiness in having made this big dream a reality. I can tell she's going to be great at this, and I can't wait to see the little touches and improvements she will add on her own, over time.
Bring your writing, your laptop (WiFi access coming soon), your knitting or your favorite book, and go and enjoy! It's lovely, and so is the smiling new propriétaire!
1, rue Jean-Marie Jégo, 75013 Paris
Open 7 days a week, brunch menu on Sundays