Matamata cafe in the heart of Paris
Leigh Soucasse and her husband Gael are living the dream after opening a coffee shop in Paris. Leigh spoke with Teresa Hattan via email about the couple’s newest career path.
Leigh and Gael Soucasse have always dreamed of opening a cafe.
This dream became reality when the couple opened Matamata Coffee Bar in September. The catch is that this Matamata Coffee Bar is in Paris.
Leigh, daughter of Gibson and Val Barron, grew up on a farm in Hinuera, attending Hinuera Primary, Matamata Intermediate and then Matamata College.
She said she took French with Mrs Parish up until year 13, but she never imagined she would end up ‘‘actually living in Paris’’.
After finishing a bachelor of education and a bachelor of arts at Otago University Leigh taught at Tauranga Intermediate for several years before setting off on her OE in 2002. ‘‘I headed to London and spent the next four and a half years teaching and using my school holidays to travel and explore Europe.’’
Leigh found she needed a break from teaching after seven years in the classroom and it coincided with an opportunity in Paris for her to volunteer with a new church plant and be part of the team to set it up.
‘‘I had always wanted to spend some time in France during my holidays but never really imagined living there for an extended period of time. I got a one-year visa and nannying job and moved in September 2006, terribly frightened and with only three telephone numbers in my phone – one of which was my new boss.
‘‘I remember arriving at Gare du Nord station with my 25kg backpack – the same one I had left New Zealand with five years earlier – waiting for my new boss to pick me up, wondering just what the heck I’d got myself into!’’
Six months after arriving in Paris Leigh met Gael and a year later, in August 2008, they came back to Matamata to get married.
Leigh said her husband had wanted a change in career. As a consultant, he wanted to use his business background to become an entrepreneur. ‘‘ Combined with my love of cooking, a cafe was an obvious choice for us. Our business partner, who is also a very good friend of ours, was already working as a barista in one of Paris’ rare good coffee cafes, completed the skill set to make it all possible,’’ Leigh said.
Matamata is a special place for the couple – it’s where they got married. Their business partner, Gerald Arekonamand, came to Matamata for the wedding to surprise Gael.
‘‘The significance of the word Matamata in Maori means ‘top’ or ‘summit’. It translates in French to ‘cap’ and there is a French phrase ‘ passer le cap’ which means to ‘pass a milestone’ and the change of career, a new project, a new business, a new partnership are all new milestones in our lives.
‘‘It’s also very nice to have a reminder of home in my Parisien life. I still can’t get used to Gael saying he’s on his way home from Matamata (the cafe) in the evening – it’s funny to think that ‘Matamata’ is now just 20 minutes away on the metro.’’
Leigh said the cafe has also ‘‘been a great connector of people’’.
‘‘On the opening week, an old classmate from Matamata College dropped by. He is now based in England and was in Paris on business that week. He walked in with his colleague just to check it out. I hadn’t seen him since we left college.
‘‘We’ve also had other Matamata people stop by which has been lovely ... it’s still nice to have the New Zealand connection.’’
Leigh said if anyone from Matamata just happens to be in Paris, they can bring a business card from her parents’ office, LJ Hooker in Arawa St, and their first coffee will be on the house.
COFFEE SHOP: Former Matamata resident Leigh Soucasse, far right, and her husband Gael, centre, have opened a coffee shop in Paris called Matamata Coffee Bar. Also pictured is Gerald Arekonamand, far left.