Coup de Foudre
Sometimes 3 little words can be completely life-changing: in this case, it was ‘Appel à Projet’. In 2008, a young Belgian couple was on holiday by the canal in the Lot et Garonne. If you don’t know the area, the Canal Lateral de la Garonne runs from Bordeaux in SW France until it joins up with the Canal du Midi at Toulouse and crosses to the other side of the country. The 2 canals are known as the canal ‘entre deux mers’ as they span two seas. Some 3 years earlier, Rick Stein visited the area and traveled along the same canal for the TV series ‘A French Odyssey’. He sampled the delights of this agricultural region, and learned how to cook many of the local dishes that celebrate the abundance of good produce: eels, Boeff de Bazas, Marmandaise tomatoes, cherries, grapes, duck, plums, apples… An enormous list of delicious ingredients!
Whilst cycling along the canal Thierry and Katerina took a photo of the sign ‘Appel à Projet’, and so their adventure began. The Voies Navigables de France was looking for people to create businesses from derelict lock keepers cottages, and as they loved canals and boats and food, they were hooked.
It took them 2 years of research, planning, and negotiation to create their business case, and finally get the contract with VNF signed. In November 2010 along with their 2 dogs, they arrived in their boat – which was to become their home during the renovation work – plus a pickup and trailer weighing 8 tons. They had left their jobs, sold up and brought all their worldly possessions and enough timber to complete their first task: build a pontoon to reach the towpath.
The ugly ducking…
The cottage had been a family home, but empty for 10 years, so there was a lot to do. Over the next 7 months, doing much of the labour themselves and using local artisans for their professional expertise, the building was transformed. Walls were knocked down, all the services were installed, including plumbing of the bac à graisse, water and waste, electrics, walls repointed, tiles laid, the property was extended to the rear and side, a large terrace laid to the front and so on. Fortunately, the weather is generally mild in this region, so work continued relentlessly.
In June 2011, on the opening night, they held a party – the mayor and his team came, the representative from VNF, all the suppliers, the building team and the inhabitants of the local village. Although there were 2 waitresses circulating with champagne on arrival, nobody touched a drop until someone whispered to the new patron: ‘you need to make a speech’. He made one, short and sweet, and everyone tucked in. The Belgian beer and frites went down a storm
…becomes a swan
The vision was to create a restaurant using fresh, local produce so the menu would be seasonal and showcase the best of local meat, fruit, and vegetables. Some of the vegetables come from their own garden, the rest are sourced locally. The only things in the freezer are the ice and the prawns! It was a sound business idea, as the restaurant has been fully booked from day 1.
One issue to resolve was who would be in the kitchen and who would serve customers. Despite only having experience of making crepes and salad, Katarina put her foot down and insisted that she would become the chef. In France! In an area where everyone is a gourmande! And nobody noticed.
Leggett Immobilier is pleased to offer this excellent business for sale 244,000€. Experience of crepes and salad optional.
More renovation project available here.