Former teacher and expat mum Kate Coulon’s quintessentially English tea room in the Loire Valley is going down a treat. Here’s how she made it work
When ex-primary school teacher Kate and her French husband Eric made the decision to move their family over to France 12 years ago, it was a matter of now or never.
“We didn’t see much of each other or much of our children,” Kate reveals. “Moving to France has enabled our children to have a childhood like I had – time outside, climbing trees, making camps. They’ve had space to grow, fresh air and quality of life”. When the family made the move, Kate decided to be a full-time mum but her dream of opening a tea room was never far from her thoughts.
So when a friend contacted her in March 2016 to say that a tea room had shut down at one of France’s monuments nationaux, the Maison de George Sand, which happened to be only 500 metres from her house in Nohant, she acted immediately.To her dismay, she discovered that the deadline to apply to become a tenant had already passed.Luckily, only one other party had applied, so she was given a chance to put her ideas across.
By the July of the same year, Kate had opened Le Teapot, which is now open five days a week (or six days in July and August) from April until October. Rather than paying rent every month, Kate is able to pay a percentage of her takings, which is perfect for a seasonal business.
Setting up the business
Kate encountered a number of difficulties when it came to setting up and registering the business, as she didn’t really fit into a category. Le Teapot couldn’t be registered as a salon de thé, as only those who have the relevant pâtisserie qualifications are allowed to register under this category. Neither could it be a restaurant, due to the building being part of a national monument, which means she cannot use a naked flame or hob.
In the end, Kate was able to register as restauration rapide under the micro-entrepreneur regime, which means she can ‘transform’ food but not make anything from scratch. Her husband Eric, who was a chef, helps out with the food and is registered as a conjoint collaborateur.
“There were lots and lots of barriers, but luckily I was with the CCI (Chambres de Commerce et d’industrie) and they did everything for me. They helped set up my business legally. Without them I would have been completely stumped. I would advise anybody who sets up a business to do the five-day course regarding setting up a business. It costs a bit of money but it’s worth it.” It was also necessary for Kate to do a food hygiene course and more training in order to obtain an alcohol licence.
Success is sweet
Despite these hurdles, Kate has made a huge success of Le Teapot, where she sells scones, cakes and a range of savoury salads and other dishes, including a wonderful melting goat’s cheese on toast. The restrictions on what she can make have enabled her to buy in a wide range of delicious local produce to sell to her customers.
“We try to keep things traditional, so when tourists come they can taste the local speciality. We sell pâté de pâques à la berrichonne, which is like pork pie in a strip with an egg inside and pâté aux pommes de terre, which is a potato and cream pie,” Kate says. “We try to keep it fresh, as low mileage as we can possibly get and if we can’t source it locally, then we try and keep it regional. We get salads and fruit and vegetables from the lady in the village who is a market gardener, and we get our goat’s cheese from a farm in the village”.
The wine is sourced locally too, from Châteaumeillant (known for its wonderful ‘rosé gris’), Valençay and Reuilly.
As Le Teapot is part of a national monument which welcomes around 35,000 visitors a year, Kate hasn’t needed to do much publicity.
Running Le Teapot has really helped Kate to integrate and with the majority of her customers being French, her language has improved enormously. “I have been doing all the service, so I have had to immerse myself and get on with it,” she says.
Kate’s top tips
• Research, research, research. Make sure that you are allowed to do what you are planning.
• Do the five-day business set-up course at the CCI.
• Ask as many people as possible who have already done it – find a mentor if possible, as it is a bit of a minefield.
• Don’t be impatient – it does take months and months to get things up and running. Everything takes time so be prepared. You will need a buffer cushion of cash.
• If you need qualifications, check you have the right ones.
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