The bank called it a coin perdu. “No one will come. Lack of experience, lack of credentials, big risk, big No.”
But on a quiet, misty evening in June, our mayor and town council helped us cut the bright ribbon. The village Taverne officially opened.
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.”
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!”)
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.
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.”
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.
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.