The Good Life France asked Mandy Lister more about her business in France running a catering company. We wanted to know how she found dealing with French authorities setting up a business and whether the French were coming round to good old British Fish and Chips in France?! (Read Part I of Mandy’s story here…)
TGLF: Are most of your clientele British or do you have French customers?
Yes most of my customers are British; I guess 20 per cent are French. I usually work in conjunction with a bar as they allow me to ‘hitch up’ to their electric supply and also welcome people to eat in the comfort of the bar with a drink or two, and my customers are happy to have somewhere nice to wait for their food. On busy nights there can be rather a long wait as I cook fresh to order!
As well as my regular venues I cater for local Fetes and Private Parties. Recently I was asked to cater at a local Jazz Festival. We did Fish and Chips on the Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday lunch time and Burgers on the Saturday and Sunday evenings. On the Friday evening I had my usual customers plus visitors to the festival, the rest of the weekend it was mostly French Jazz lovers. It was a great atmosphere with live music on and off all day and evening and many customers who said that they had never tried Fish and Chips. A lot of them had heard about the British favourite supper but never tried it. It was lovely to hear their comments afterwards, of how much they enjoyed it or ‘how surprised’ they were to have enjoyed it so much. It is so rewarding when people have genuinely enjoyed the food we provide. Especially the French!
TGLF: Why do you think the French don’t offer fish and chips like we know in the UK?
Perhaps most French people think that Fish and Chips are greasy, ‘foreign’ or just weird! Why would you want to coat a nice piece of fish in something which looks like ‘crepe’ mixture, deep fry it in oil and eat it from a carton? I also think that many French people have grown up with the impression that British food is greasy, stodgy, flavourless and simply ‘no good’. I like to think that I am helping some to change their opinions!
TGLF: Do you sell all the traditional Fish and Chip shop accoutrements?
I do sell mushy peas, which I make myself from French dried split peas. I know a lovely English couple who make the most wonderful meat pies. They supply me with Steak & Kidney, Beef & Ale and my favourite Minced Beef pies. I only cook these to order though as of course they are best when freshly cooked.
TGLF: Was it hard to set up a business in France? What advice would you pass on to other expats hoping to set up a business?
No, it wasn’t too difficult to set up, although I think I was very lucky. My Chambre de Commerce were very helpful and pointed me in the right direction for all the people I needed to contact and they helped me with all the paperwork I needed to deal with. The best advice I can give to anyone setting up a business in France is to go to your local Chambre de Commerce or Chambre de Metiers (depending on what business you are hoping to set up) and ask for all the help and advice they can give. Of course it helps if you speak French. If not ask someone you trust to translate for you!
TGLF: Any issues with French health and safety/quirks of the system?
No, to be honest it is pretty much the same as it would be in England. More or less all the same rules apply. Cleanliness, Health & Safety rules etc. I applied for an alcohol licence so that I could sell wine or cans of beer. That was a strange one…. I could sell the wine or beer but my customers could not sit near the van to drink it, it has to be “take away” therefore I am not allowed to provide chairs and tables for my customers! If I want to do this then I would have to go on a longer course to gain the appropriate licence. At the moment though I leave selling alcohol to the bars I work with. My customers can sit in the comfort of the bar have a drink and not have to stand outside the van in a queue. Quite a few of my customers travel quite a distance so it is good for them to be able to sit down and eat “sur place”.
TGLF: What does the future hold for the business and for you in France?
In the future I want to do more function based catering. I organised an event for the Queens Jubilee this year with afternoon tea, a quiz and live music. I am lucky enough to know some very talented musicians, so we had a trio of Harpist, Double base and singer. In the evening we had live groups and a disco which everyone thoroughly enjoyed and I cooked Burger & chips.
I have catered for weddings, birthday parties, Vide Greniers (markets) and Charity Events. Mandy’s Fish & Chips seem to be doing so well at the moment I am thinking “If it aint broke don’t fix it”. Good food quality and a happy smiling face serving it seems to work, so why change it.
I would also like to say that if it weren’t for my wonderful and patient kids that none of this would be possible. Whenever I need help or support one or all of my 3 children are there to help me. It is really a “Family business”; I simply couldn’t have done any of it without them.