Well, despite all our efforts and being ready to open on the 7th May, the French administration got us again. We had deposited at Le Mairie our ‘declaration d’ouverture’ the mairie forgot to notify the prefecture to organise the ‘controle de securité’, a compulsory inspection by the fire brigade, gendarmerie, and prefecture to ensure everything conforms to their standards – door widths, handicapped access, fire alarms, kitchen hygiene (a good one that, considering it’s all new and hasn’t been used that much) and I was praised for my hygiene standards! The problem was the date was set for the 29th May and we couldn’t open before.
We spent a frustrating but interesting month as ‘la bouche d’oreille’ (word of mouth) spread and numerous people arrived to have a drink and book a table. Wine producers arrived with free samples and soon the cave was stocked with over 100 Mâcon-Chardonnay wines. They have a good system too. We don’t pay for the first case until we order the next one which means zero stocking costs and the director of the cooperative cave arrived a week after I had opened an account with them to give me a more interesting tariff, so I pay the same for their wines as the supermarket chains, one of which is Waitrose! If you are interested, look for the Mâcon-Villages with the ‘postcode’ 71260.
The Village Visits….
The weekend before the official opening (subject to approval), we invited the whole village, all 211 of them for a pre-opening drink and nibble. Jo and Geoff were staying with Dick and Elli and Geoff agreed to ‘tinkle the ivories’ for the do. We had about 100 and the mayor and deputy gave speeches. Madame Bretin, who lives in the old chateau, was born in ‘Le Chardon’ and found the whole ceremony far too emotional but is so happy that someone has breathed life back into the old place.
The 29th finally came and at 10am sharp a delegation arrived led by the mayor, closely followed by the deputy mayor, the fireman, policeman and two women from the prefecture (county council), one of whom was responsible for handicapped people. We passed that one with flying colours, having probably the only loo in the region with handicapped access. The fireman wasn’t happy with the fire alarm (which we may have to upgrade) and the gas pipes in the kitchen need a coat of yellow paint to show that they are gas pipes, a bit obvious really as they are connected to a cooker. Still, one has to show willing. Anyway, the long and the short of it was we got classified as a bar-hotel and got given the green light to open.
Wednesday morning we were up bright and early to get everything ready, and opened the doors at 10.30. Our first customer was………..the mayor who brought in the village gardener and helper for a well deserved drink having planted out the gardens opposite us.
A Swiss family arrived for lunch and afterwards said they were the new owners of the restaurant in Ozenay, a village about 4 kms away. In the evening the local boules players came for a drink and we did dinner for a party of six. We haven’t done any advertising deliberately in order to start slowly and get used to the organisation of the kitchen, tables, bar etc so it was for us a good start. Thursday was a different matter. We had a room for two booked (which was fine) and a table of four for dinner.
We ended up serving dinner for sixteen. Friday we had four staying and six booked for dinner and ended up serving nineteen. Saturday six people (plus three dogs) stayed and we served sixteen meals. Our cash-flow forecast went right out the window as on the Saturday alone we put more money through the till than we had predicted for the entire week!!!
The 21st June is midsummer’s day and in France bars and cafes throughout the country organise live music. We decided to jump on the bandwagon and got two friends, amateur musicians, to sing and we’d do a paella and desert at 7,50€. We reckoned on about thirty people but ended up with 66!!!! Needless to say, we got to bed at 3.30 am but it went very well.
Two days later, the Saturday, we did a hen night for Mallory Talmard and twenty five of her thirty something friends. Cold buffet, lots of bubbly………..all going very well until the phone rang at 2.30 am. It was Benjamin who had been out on his stag night. ‘We’ve finished our night’ he said, ‘what are you up to?’
Ten minutes later, all the guys turned up and we finished and got to bed at 5.30 am.
The days are long, we are rarely in bed before midnight and up at 6.30 in the morning but it’s great fun, the people are welcoming, we’re making loads of new friends and acquaintances and after all the trials and tribulations of the past two and a half years we can honestly say it has all been worthwhile. We have no regrets in our decision to pack up and leave the UK.
Life is good………..La vie est belle……………must get back to the washing up………..and sorry for the delay with this bulletin, it’s the new French keyboard which starts AZERTY instead of QWERTY and half the keys are in different places.