Taverne – There’s Magic in a Beginning 13

The bank called it a coin perdu.    “No one will come.  Lack of experience, lack of credentials, big risk, big No.”

team on Opening Day – Taverne Bar

But on a quiet, misty evening in June, our mayor and town council helped us cut the bright ribbon.  The village Taverne officially opened.

Taverne Ribbon Cutting Ceremony: Henri’s Speech,  Juillac Mayor and Town Council

The first week neighbors and curious locals stopped by.   They exclaimed at the extraordinary view. They praised the food and wine and prices and atmosphere; said this was just what they’d been waiting for.  Some of them pointed out their houses or villages in the valley below or on the hilltops some 10 kilometers in the distance.   A man told me: “this will be my place.”

First Night, Friends on the Terrace

From the start it was the kind of gathering place we dreamed of.  People walking amidst tables to chat with their neighbors, children absorbed by board games on the coffee table in the games corner.   (Carol bought vintage games from the local Recyclerie  and happy parents pleaded, “don’t ever put in a TV!”)

sipping Rose on Terrace

Mornings, John did rounds for supplies while the team cleaned and prepped. Evenings, I donned an apron to serve or wash dishes. French fries became the source of great experimentation; we made emergency calls to the experts, like Tata Claire. (Cooked in duck fat was the hit.)    Carol gave a new twist to her grandmother’s vegetable tempura recipe.  Her special ingredient remains an industrial secret.   Another hit.

washing dishes non stop

A journalist came to interview.  Front page photo in the Libourne newspaper.   “Le Resistant” (founded by the Resistance in WWII) summed it up in their own way:  “young people with university degrees come back to our countryside to re-inhabit ‘paradise’ through farming and a local-based business.”

Le Resistant, Libourne, July 2017

Tables filled.  The Regional Bordeaux newspaper wrote another article calling it: “The new place to be.”   The terrace filled to the brim.   Then overflowed…

Too good to be true?    So much, so fast.    A bit of panic…

And then Carol’s mother appeared.   She set right to work after a 12 hour flight and was everywhere at once with her gift for cooking and organizing. Just like Mary Poppins, she steadied us all with her calm, boundless energy and a mysterious ability to stay beautiful, nary a hair out of place – even in the high heat of summer.

By mid July the Taverne was doing a brisk business.   It all came to a head the night of the Full Moon concert featuring a well known jazz quartet.  When John and I arrived with friends the evening was in full swing, people coming on foot, cars parked far down the road.  But despite the great music and smiling customers something was amiss.   Orders backed up.  Tables weren’t cleared.  Dishes stacked in the kitchen helter skelter.    No one had predicted such a crowd.

One frantic glance and we zoomed to our posts – John bussed tables, Genevieve served at the bar, cousin Sally and I made for the kitchen chaos.  As Sally cheerfully manned the steamy dishwasher, I apologized – what a step down from her work as an Emergency Room doctor.   She laughed: “Oh, that was just the odd gun shot wound – nothing compared to this!”   And suddenly, across the kitchen a man was waving and smiling.   Marcos!  Carol’s father had just flown across the Atlantic and was peeling potatoes before he even said hello.

It was a night of everyone and everything, from parking lot skirmishes to first love blushes – even Danté the dog held court on the porch, girth and teeth an attraction to children who wandered around during festivities.

At 2 am, quiet descended.   We sat down wearily and discussed the evening.  The kids were shell-shocked.   Julien worried they’d get a bad review from Trip Advisor.   They made plans to hire help.

We also raised glasses of cold beer, fresh from the tap.   After all, signs of success sometimes come in a lopsided package.

As summer went on, business boomed.   With more help, service assumed a smoother pattern.   People came, came back, became “regulars.”   Monday nights local artisans gathered.  Friday nights it was the local English community.   Every night – the atmosphere of a low key party.

Seven days a week, no time off.   Late nights, early risings.   I must admit, I did worry about the high level of fatigue among the troops.   Even Julien, our die-hard extrovert started murmuring uncharacteristic words like “monastery.”   Circles darkened their young eyes, but they refused to close even for an afternoon.  The high season was short; they were determined to make the most of every hour.

Coin perdu, indeed.


Celebrating Genevieve’s Birthday on the Terrace

It was Carol’s father who said it best: “There is only one beginning.    It’s like having a baby.   If you miss it, you miss it.”

Thus I jot down my random recollections of the birth of La Taverne du Belvedere.   For already, at end of season, while we’re now busy in the winery with the 2017 harvests, memories of those first weeks are fading.

No one is cocky about the future; we all know a small business has to continually re-invent itself to survive.

But still, I’m compelled to quote – I think it was Hermann Hesse:  “There is a magic in beginnings.”

And I never want to forget what this beginning was like.


Cutting the Ribbon with the Mayor


Taverne, hanging our new shingle


La Taverne du Belvedere, view of valley beyond
















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13 thoughts on “Taverne – There’s Magic in a Beginning

  • Bernadette Engelstad

    Ahh, the memory we have been waiting for!!! Congratulations, La Famille Sandifer!!! Now we each feel the wonder of having shared this Awesome Moment with you all . . . and will plan a future moment to raise a glass at La Taverne du Belvedere — a beautiful view indeed!!! With love, Bea

  • Steven Lawrence

    Mary, this is fantastic news and such an uplifting and beautifully composed entry! Helen and I are so pleased for all of you. We remember standing outside the shuttered Belvedere in October 2015 and listening to Henri describe his vision for the Taverne – a vision now realized! Congratulations many times over. I hope we can visit sometime next year to enjoy the Taverne and the company of la famille! Love, Steve

  • Kathy & Claude

    Flicitations!! What a wonderful story, we can “see” the breathtaking view across the pond and inhale the fabulous wine & beer. Can’t wait to visit our beloved France, save us a place to dine our your lovely patio and stay in the farm house again.

    Kathy & Claude

  • Carol Wallace Hamlin

    Will and I were so lucky to dine at La Taverne on our first evening in Pessac! It’s true that the tempura is especially fine but the warm welcome from the young Sandifers was really what made our evening special. I look forward to returning. Magic, indeed.

  • béatrice ISSERLIS

    Quelle joie de voir la concrétisation de votre travail avec l’ouverture de la taverne du Belvédère. La vue est magnifique et je comprends le succès de cet endroit unique. J’adore la déco et l’ambiance que l’on peut découvrir à travers les photos. Michel se joint à moi pour vous féliciter et vous dire toutes nos pensées amicales et affectueuses.
    Vous êtes une famille formidable et vous nous manquez. On vous appelle après le 15 octobre. Nos vendanges seront terminées.
    On vous embrasse,
    Béatrice et Michel

  • Caroline Jones

    Mere Sandifer, as always but especially, wonderful to read your words and see the “children” and catch a glimpse of the great adventure, the new “baby.” We will come visit in 2018 after Berlin in June — the eventful peace you have made is a treasure in this world. warm best to you and love from Peter too, Carrie

  • Judi Goodman

    Steve and I were so excited by your recent post. Can’t believe your energy, how successful your new venture is, and — most importantly — how your kids have grown up. Your family life seems amazing, and we are so very happy for you all. We’re thinking of visiting in the Spring. Hope to see you then. much love and good wishes, Judi and Steve

  • Seyller Gisèle

    Heureuse de voir que votre beau projet se concrétise, toutes mes félicitations pour ce travail accompli, je saurai retrouver le Belvédère si je suis dans la région de la Tourbeille pour y déguster une assiette de foie gras ! mes amitiés à toute la famille Sandifer . Gisèle

  • Denton

    Greetings from Wisconsin and “Merci beaucoup” for sharing this lively record of recent experience at La Taverne. Never imagined that the chance meeting and good conversation with Mary at the Leclerc in Pineuilh would lead to this extended experience. After visiting the work in progress and meeting John et al., we sent an em reply to Mary (not sure she saw it) shortly before we had to leave for Slovenia–1-2 days before your soft opening–but our “landlords” Ed and Mary-Anne and friends were there. We certainly enjoyed the ’12 Ch La Tourbeille and hope some is left when we return during 2018. Looks like La Taverne is thriving, and we’re eager to witness that firsthand when we return.