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