It’s not all about B&Bs and gîtes – there are plenty of other ways to make a living in France. Be inspired by these expats running unusual businesses in France
Running a gourmet burger van and restaurant in Bordeaux
Brit, Ben Lethbridge saw a gap in the market and decided to open a gourmet burger restaurant in Bordeaux, West Coast Burgers, as well as a burger van supplying festivals and events all over the south-west of France. He and his family moved from Paris to Bordeaux to set up the business.
“I love burgers; good ones, made with top quality beef,” says Ben. “I had travelled round the world enjoying them, but I couldn’t find them in France. Bordeaux seemed to need a specialist burger restaurant. Now, good-quality burger restaurants are very fashionable in London, and other cities, and you see them everywhere, but in Bordeaux, I could not get a burger that I really liked.”
“I must admit, the French were a little sceptical at first. They equated burgers with McDonald’s and they hate fast food. But they love their meat, and I thought, if they tried a really good-quality, lovingly produced, home-made burger like ours, they’d love it. And they did! Reaction has been really good. They are surprised when they taste a great burger with all the home-made dishes we serve with them, and the restaurant has taken off.”
All the burgers, side dishes, sauces, desserts, chips, onion rings and coleslaw are home-made. The burgers are made with 100% French Limousin beef and come with a variety of toppings such as avocado, mozzarella, guacamole and pesto, while deserts include home-made lemon cheesecake and brownies. With wine at just three euros for a large glass of sublime locally produced Bordeaux, it’s no surprise business is booming.
Read more about Ben and his burger restaurant
Selling vintage French furniture in Annecy
Sophie Warren set up Vintage French, a business selling the vintage pieces she finds in France onto clients, mainly in the UK. The idea grew out of her love for vintage furniture and the abundance of pieces she was finding at local brocantes in Annecy where she lives with her family.
“I’ve been buying vintage furniture since we lived here really, and I realised very quickly that I was picking up pieces that would probably have more interest in the UK than they do here in France,” says Sophie. “The UK has always had a love affair with different styles of French furniture and I think all are relevant in the right setting, and I think all those items have more value in the UK.”
“The take I have on vintage furniture is having a really beautiful piece that has lovely workmanship or details and putting it in a contemporary space. We all love white walls and wooden floors, and then by adding a statement piece, this is where I see vintage furniture as more relevant in a modern home.”
As well as visiting local brocantes and vide-greniers, Sophie is starting to find local people are coming to her to offer their unwanted family furniture, and she is also receiving commissions from clients, which can sometimes prove challenging. “We had a commission for a vintage football table for children,” laughs Sophie, “and I stumbled across one! Absolutely extraordinary. Often people see things in magazines and ask us if we can find something similar. It really is good fun. To have found something that I am so interested in, and that I can fit into being a full-time mum – it’s just great to have found it.”
Read more about Sophie and her business in Annecy
Making AOC olive oil in Provence
Gerry and Mark Whitcombe-Power fell in love with a derelict farm in Var, renovated the house and started replanting the olive groves. Three years later they began making their olive oil, AOC Huile d’Olive de Provence, Vierge Extra and selling it at local markets.
“According to the local chamber of agriculture, some of the oldest olive trees here were planted over 1,000 years ago,” says Gerry. “We’ve managed to keep a few of them around the house because it’s important for heritage and it looks nice to have a few of these big old trees; but on the actual fields, we were advised to take out the few old, damaged trees which remained and plant from scratch.”
With the help of a mini-digger and assistance from friends and family, they now have 2,000 olive trees planted across 17 acres. The olive oil is selling well online and through a local market. “The local butcher also sells it, and people can buy it direct from me,” says Gerry. “Some local restaurants are starting to ask for it which is very flattering, and we are always looking for bigger outlets.”
Read more about Gerry and Mark’s olive farm in Var
Running vineyard tours in Champagne
Rachel Trembley met Frenchman Alexis while on a year abroad in Reims and after graduating they returned to Champagne and Rachel started running private tours of Alexis’ family champagne house and vineyards.
“A lot of the larger champagne producers offer really good tours but they don’t include viewings of the vineyards, and many people want to actually see these as well, or visit a smaller producer,” explains Rachel. It was while she was working on reception at a hotel that Rachel realised there was a gap in the market for small-scale private vineyard tours, and from this idea RAW France was born.
With RAW, Rachel welcomes small groups of people into the family home all year round – generally two to four people at a time – and gives them a day of her undivided attention. Tours start with a discussion about champagne and the production process, before tastings, a cellar visit and a drive through the vines, where they find Alexis who will chat to the groups. This is followed by lunch on the terrace, accompanied by champagne and a vineyard view.
Read more about Rachel and her vineyard tours
Running activity holidays in the Pyrénées
James Dealtry has always loved the great outdoors and has turned his passion into a luxury activity holiday business based in the French Pyrénées – L’Ancienne Poste. The concept for the business was simple – tailor-made holidays for up to 14 guests where they can try a range of outdoor activities including skiing, snowboarding, ski touring, cycling, walking, climbing and white water raftering, while staying in the full-board luxury of the beautifully restored mountain lodge.
“I love having my own property where I can bring my own guests, and I can be the person who takes them out during the day,” says James. “If they want to go climbing or cycling or hiking, I can take them, or in the winter we do ski lessons or go ski touring, or off-piste skiing.
“There are lots and lots of chalet companies working in the Alps and in the Pyrenees, and I wanted to do something a little bit different. What struck me was that none of them seemed to have their own in-house guide or ski instructor, and I thought this could be a great selling point.
“There is a great sense of achievement for me. When you see everyone all together at dinner, and they’ve all had a great day’s skiing; all laughing and talking about what happened during the day; and you think ‘I created that’, it is a lovely feeling.”
Read more about James and his activity holidays business
Like this? You might enjoy: