La vie en ROSES

Teresa Welles­ley talks to a cou­ple who set up a tea room in one of Dor­dogne’s best-known vil­lages

French Property News - - Con­tents -

Lib­erté, egal­ité, cuppa thé Fos­ter­ing the En­tente Cor­diale at an English tea­room in Dor­dogne

Some peo­ple al­low life events to shape their destiny; oth­ers use life events to fol­low their dreams. Dave and Denny White from Northamp­ton­shire fall into the lat­ter cat­e­gory. These sparky, fo­cused 50-some­things jumped ship from the UK to France in 2016, bought a house and set up a suc­cess­ful busi­ness us­ing their com­bined knowl­edge, skills, ex­per­tise and de­ter­mi­na­tion.

It was ac­tu­ally a decade ear­lier that Dave and Denny, plus her par­ents, had first ar­rived in the well-known and de­light­ful vil­lage of Eymet in Dor­dogne. This tiny, pic­turesque bastide vil­lage has long been a favourite haunt of the Bri­tish and Denny re­mem­bers at the time look­ing at a pho­to­graph of a bed and break­fast for sale all decked out with pretty win­dow boxes and think­ing, just how lovely is this?

Many years later to­wards the end of 2016, Dave was cross­ing over the bridge of the river which leads into the vil­lage when he saw an ‘ à ven­dre’ sign on the side of a build­ing just op­po­site. Some­thing clicked sharply into place. The pair asked the lo­cal es­tate agent if they could view it. Upon en­ter­ing the ground floor’s for­mer sa­lon, Dave turned to his wife and said, “Denny, tea room.” And, so it was that on 4 De­cem­ber, the build­ings on the cor­ner of Quai de la Nav­i­ga­tion and Av­enue St-foy be­came their first ever French prop­erty and would hence­for­ward be known as Roses Sa­lon de Thé – Vin­tage English Tea­room.

The name of the rose

Why the cou­ple chose to name their new busi­ness Roses has a touch­ing if tragic ex­pla­na­tion. Denny’s Aunty Rose­mary used to help run a friend’s suc­cess­ful tea room in Corn­wall as well as own­ing a cou­ple of handy bak­eries. Denny and Dave were fre­quent vis­i­tors and it was here, while on hol­i­day in Corn­wall, that they got the idea of open­ing their own teashop. “Rose­mary was a lovely lady,” Denny ex­plains. “And when Dave and I first got to­gether the thought was to buy and run our own teashop; Rose­mary was go­ing to show us the ropes.” Un­for­tu­nately, Rose­mary died in a car ac­ci­dent around 2002 and, de­spite two at­tempts to buy suitable prop­er­ties for a busi­ness, the cou­ple were gazumped on both oc­ca­sions. How­ever, the legacy of Aunty Rose­mary lives on, but in France not in Eng­land, and maybe this was meant to be.

The French con­nec­tion

So how, when and why did the Whites first be­come in­volved with France? Both had been mar­ried pre­vi­ously and have chil­dren from their re­spec­tive unions. Dave al­ready knew France from early hol­i­days around the French Riv­iera and Denny had en­joyed many so­journs in Nor­mandy and Brit­tany.

How­ever, the real love af­fair with France started more or less at the same time as their own love af­fair be­gan. Even more ro­man­ti­cally, it was while on their hon­ey­moon fol­low­ing their wed­ding in 2009, that the cou­ple de­cided on a per­ma­nent move to France.

They al­ready had English friends in Char­ente with whom they stayed reg­u­larly and it was dur­ing these times that the pair be­gan to pre­pare for the move in earnest. “We read books and went on­line,” said Denny. “We trav­elled and we did our re­search.” In this re­spect, FPN it­self may have had an in­flu­ence on their de­ci­sion to de­part the UK as Denny re­mem­bers read­ing an ar­ti­cle about Eymet in the magazine years ago and think­ing to her­self, what if?

In 2016, hav­ing fi­nally de­cided it was now or never, the Whites made five sep­a­rate trips to France to search for suitable prop­er­ties in which to run a tea room.

Time for tea

Ex­actly five months af­ter the Whites bought the prop­erty, Roses Sa­lon de Thé Vin­tage English Tea­room opened for busi­ness. It was mar­ket day, 4 May 2017. Day One might well have been de­scribed as be­ing a won­der­ful night­mare. Sacre bleu! What was go­ing on in the kitchen? The newly in­stalled cof­fee ma­chine had bro­ken down and, de­spite poor Dave’s ef­forts to make it work, it re­mained un­re­spon­sive through­out the day.

Turn­ing a po­ten­tial dis­as­ter into a suc­cess is

The legacy of Aunty Rose­mary lives on but in France not in Eng­land

never easy but, by sim­ply us­ing their in­nate peo­ple skills and ini­tia­tive, the pair sim­ply of­fered al­ter­na­tive vari­a­tions on the cof­fee ma­chine op­tion and what could not be ex­plained to the French was swiftly trans­lated into French by a thought­ful English cus­tomer and writ­ten on the top of each menu – and in French. Et voila!

Ill-be­haved ma­chines aside, it would have been hard to fault the glo­ri­ous cakes, pas­tries, scones (all baked by Denny), choice teas, al­ter­na­tive cof­fees, the ex­quis­ite decor, stylish pe­riod fur­ni­ture and gen­eral am­biance on dis­play that day and on ev­ery other. Day One was judged a suc­cess. “Lis­ten to that,” said Denny to Dave in the kitchen that day. “Just lis­ten to the din. They’re en­joy­ing them­selves.”

It must be said that nei­ther Denny nor Dave are am­a­teurs in their re­spec­tive metiers. Denny is es­sen­tially a coun­try girl from the Cotswolds whose grand­fa­ther was a mas­ter baker with a fam­ily busi­ness in Glouces­ter. She got plenty of early ex­pe­ri­ence in sil­ver ser­vice and in the cater­ing in­dus­try and de­vel­oped an abil­ity for sourc­ing and buy­ing high qual­ity fur­nish­ings and an­tiques.

Dave is a self-taught tiler and plas­terer who ran his own busi­ness prior to the French move. Other oc­cu­pa­tions have in­cluded vil­lage sub­post­mas­ter, heavy goods driver, re­me­dial sur­veyor (treat­ing wood, tim­ber and damp cours­ing) and dray­man, de­liv­er­ing beer in Northamp­ton­shire for Scot­tish & New­cas­tle Brew­eries. How­ever, over the years, he had also been buy­ing, ren­o­vat­ing and sell­ing on a num­ber of prop­er­ties, learn­ing ev­ery­thing he needed to know on the job.

That ex­plains the beau­ti­ful ex­te­ri­ors and in­te­ri­ors of the Eymet prop­erty which strad­dles a cor­ner plot, one side over­look­ing the river and the other the busy thor­ough­fare of Av­enue St-foy. The house is thought to date from the 15th cen­tury and spreads up­wards over three floors all linked by a wind­ing, wooden stair­way. Dave com­pleted the ex­ten­sive work on the kitchen and con­verted the sec­ond floor into bed and break­fast ac­com­mo­da­tion while also pre­par­ing the cou­ple’s own vast liv­ing quar­ters on the third floor. Most of the pe­riod fur­nish­ings were brought to France from the cou­ple’s own home in Northamp­ton­shire, re­quir­ing eight freight con­tain­ers to ac­com­mo­date the load. Other typ­i­cally French pieces were ei­ther bought in Eymet or at other lo­cal bro­cantes which the cou­ple en­joy vis­it­ing.

One year on So, one year on, how do the cou­ple view their new life so far? “Well,” said Dave, “sum­mer was good for us with ev­ery kind of na­tion­al­ity com­ing to Eymet to visit and now it’s win­ter with fewer peo­ple around so, it’s get­ting hard.” How­ever, these are very early days and the Whites, un­like the case with most other cafés, have de­cided to re­main open through­out most of the win­ter. The ini­tia­tive will prove pop­u­lar with reg­u­lars.

They have in­te­grated well with the lo­cal busi­nesses and non-busi­ness com­mu­nity, and their French neigh­bours, and have ac­quired a per­ma­nent bank, no­taire, doc­tor and den­tist. Less suc­cess­ful is flu­ency in the French lan­guage. “Some days, I feel as though I’m on the moon,” says Dave, as he strug­gles to ex­plain what he means in French. How­ever, this year, the pair will be un­der­tak­ing fur­ther French cour­ses run by an English woman who lives lo­cally and teaches French.

On the so­cial side, the Whites value the new life­style they find in France. Denny ex­plains this well: “In Eng­land we had good friends but here, we have bet­ter friends. We go out more; we en­joy life more; we’re never go­ing to be rich but the life­style is rich enough.”

En­tente cor­diale Some­times French cus­tomers out­num­ber English ones in the tea­room, en­joy­ing its quaint­ness and quintessen­tial English­ness. Some of them come be­cause they would like to meet and con­verse with English peo­ple and find it hard to com­mu­ni­cate some­times; as one cus­tomer told me, “we find the English a bit closed off”. Strange, be­cause that’s usu­ally ex­actly what the English have to say about the French.

To nur­ture the en­tente cor­diale, the Whites have al­ready held their first suc­cess­ful quiz night com­plete with great food, all for €12, and are think­ing of a log­i­cal ex­ten­sion this year work­ing on the com­mu­ni­ca­tions theme. Draw­ing on their first day vis­it­ing Eymet’s mar­ket, they are think­ing of mak­ing mar­ket day ‘En­tente Cor­diale day’ at Roses. In prac­tice, the sa­lon would dou­ble as a place de ren­con­tre, pro­vid­ing the ve­hi­cle for the French and the Bri­tish who wish to do so to meet and con­verse over ex­cel­lent cof­fee, tea and cakes. If the idea takes off, other es­tab­lish­ments might well fol­low suit. Who knows; one might make a good friend, find a per­ma­nent part­ner or even meet destiny it­self via such an ini­tia­tive?

It is al­most im­pos­si­ble these days to read any ar­ti­cle or news­pa­per re­port con­cern­ing Bri­tish peo­ple liv­ing and work­ing abroad with­out a men­tion of Brexit. So what is the Whites’ view on the sub­ject? “Brexit?” they say, im­me­di­ately cloud­ing over. “What Brexit?”

They are think­ing of mak­ing mar­ket day, En­tente Cor­diale day at Roses

The tea room in Eymet “What Brexit?” says Denny The vin­tage-in­spired in­te­rior The tea room is right by the river

Mak­ing time for tea Denny show­ing off the guest suite Dave re­lax­ing in the top floor salon

ros­eseymet.com

Cover this, Cover that, by Teresa Welles­ley is avail­able from Ama­zon price £4.99

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