Stef moved me to tears yesterday as he recounted the story of a French Living customer who called in for lunch after a number of years absence.
Stef remembered him well. He had been a regular diner from the days of Bruno when the restaurant was downstairs only. He came with his wife, possibly only twice a year, and he kept himself very much to himself, his communication always somewhat abrupt. Stef remembered him well because of this, and also because Bruno would sigh heavily whenever he arrived, struggling with this customer's coldness. You could almost think the couple were not enjoying the experience, that something was wrong, but they kept coming back, until suddenly they no longer appeared.
This happens. People's dining habits change, they move on to the next dining trend, the new restaurant opening and given that a friendship never formed between Stephane and the couple due to the lack of communication, Stef didn't think too much about their disappearance.
Yesterday, he appeared on his own. In his usual abrupt style he handed over a collection of A4 sheets of paper and said he would like Stef to read them. It was a collection of handwritten poems, an expression of his feelings, of love and loss, for his wife who had recently passed away. Stef could barely read them through the tears.
"Why did he come to French Living and give these to me?" Stef asked, bemused at why he had been the chosen one for this emotional sharing.
This story made me think long and hard about the place Stef and I have created. The place we call French Living. The place many go to eat snails and feel brave for trying something new. The place of escape into holiday mode for a couple of hours.
You see, it is not just a "place". It is a collection of people and energy, of emotion, love and enthusiasm, that vibrates strongly within the four walls. This loving charge was sparked by Stef and me, from our desire to create something together, from my desire to see Stef happy in England. I selfishly brought Stephane to my home island, away from his familiar foods and culture, and so the idea of a little French haven in the centre of Nottingham helped to alleviate my guilt. Let's think of it as an expression of my love for him.
Today we both love this place deeply. It holds so many memories for us. And this is what people feel when they step into French Living. They feel this love as they return time and time again, allowing them to create their own memories. It's like a bubbling cauldron of emotions, good and bad, bitter and sweet, a cacaphony of life experiences.
Places like French Living are increasingly rare, which is why we can sometimes be misunderstood as people become accustomed to distancing themselves from others. The human touch, the real and authentic, are unusual qualities in todays world, where businesses are created with profit in mind only. A place created from love will exude love in everything it does. And so French Living's magic satisfies more than just the stomach; it touches the heart.
And this is why our silent customer returned with a collection of love poems about his wife.