The Second Oldest Café in France

An interview by Karicia Quiroz with Alexis Boccard, Owner at Café de la Table Ronde

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As a former student and current intern at GEM, I was strolling around the centre-ville of Grenoble, near the Notre-Dame area, searching for a café to sit in and do work. I was initially only looking for a place to plug in my laptop. Where I ended up staying, however, completely changed my plans for the evening.

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Café de la Table Ronde was founded in 1739.

I am a coffee fiend, and I did not believe that I had not known this before: Grenoble was the home of the second oldest café in France! Through a friend, I had heard about this, though had not made plans to find the place that very evening. It was by pure accident that I stumbled upon it in the big square of St. Andre, and I only realized this as I looked at the 1739 founding year on the red banner in the front. When it sunk in, I immediately went inside the café and ordered my espresso. What shocked me was the relaxed ambiance of the place. It was humble and unassuming, with the tranquil environment adding on to the lively conversation spreading through the booth areas at the front of the café to the wooden tables at the back of the café. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of just sitting down near the mirrors facing the entrance, with the laptop bag left untouched on the chair beside me, and reveling on being here in France.

At this point, I have been to this café several times with close friends, and it is the combination of the location, the little espressos served in their cups, friendly staff, antique décor, variety of customers, and relaxed environment that always brings a unique experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Boccard, who runs the café with his brother Jerome, on his experience.

How long have you been working at the café?

DSC04065I have been working here for the past fifteen years with my brother, seven days a week. Up until then, my father, Jean-Pierre, had been managing the place since 1972.

What types of clients do you have coming here?

We have a wide range of clients, a grand variety. From young students to families, artists and musicians to conference seminars for business, we have many people from all walks of life.

How would you describe the place to someone trying it out for the first time?

It is a friendly (‘convivial’) café brasserie with good food and good company. It is relaxed, and less stressed than other cafes. Artists like to come here, and there is a lively discussion between the artists and other customers. For instance, artist and known actor Edouard Baer came over to the café and had great discussions with our clients one evening after a spectacle at the Theatre of Grenoble nearby. The café has a very open setting.

Actually, it was here that Antoine Renard, a famous opera tenor, used Jean-Baptiste Clément’s poem and composed the music for the world-famous Temps des cerises romantic melody. It is another thing we are known for.

Any plans for the café?

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The Café is favoured especially amongst artists and actors from Theatre of Grenoble.

Well, one and a half years ago, we bought the café next door, to increase the size of the café and our kitchen. Even though you have to go outside and through a separate door to get inside the other café, both kitchens meets up in the middle in one large, shared kitchen. This purchase was a big investment, and we are now working with the challenges of managing a bigger café in fact.

Besides this, we are hesitant to make any renovations as we are housed in an old building that requires, for any renovation, an email request for the municipality and a lot of administrative effort. We have not done too many renovations in past years- we repainted all the walls five years ago.

What are the upcoming challenges that you see happening?

It is one stress managing a restaurant and the kitchen, but it is quite another managing the stress from the administrative side. There are fees, bills, and government roles to take into account, as well as restaurant pressures as well, especially with a larger serving space.

What would you recommend to try here?

The ravioles from the region are excellent, and we have a full menu just based on that. The snail is not a bad choice either. Do not forget to try our tartiflette too.

When are your busiest times?

We are busy during noontime, but after lunch, the rush of people soon dies down. Our really busy times are between 7pm and 10/11pm during the evenings. That is when the café is full of people, especially with the nice summer weather coming up. Many are now staying out late for a meal out in the terrace.

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