Nov 14th, 2020, 03:42 PM

The Importance of Community For One Special Café

By Michael Gallagher
The Bleu Olive's very own, Juline Hanaut, preparing a cup of coffee for an AUP student. Image Credits: Michael Gallagher.
Barista of the café Bleu Olive shares her personal experience on staying open during the second confinement in Paris, France

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Managing a family-owned business always comes with a sense of pride and a never-ending list of to-dos. Managing a family and a business, in the middle of a pandemic, in a second lockdown, takes a special group of people. As France is several weeks into its lockdown and many businesses can remain open, relying solely on sales made for “to-go” or “takeaway”, as many anglophones say here in France, is the way to go. In today’s pandemic though, it isn’t just about having coffee, but creating a connection, even a small one. One space, popular amongst The American University of Paris (AUP) students and folks of the 7th arrondissement is the café, Bleu Olive.

The Bleu Olive café is located in the Gros-Calliou neighborhood in Paris. It currently remains open for quick conversation and a warm cup of coffee for “takeaway”. The café is owned by the Hanaut family. The father Olivier Hanaut, nicknamed Olive by his wife, is where the name Olive came from for the café. Olivier was working in finance for years until a trip to Latin America inspired him to take a chance on a career change and opened a café in Paris. It wasn’t simple nor was it easy. It was a decision which required some brainstorming. At first, he thought about opening up a place to sell wine but wanted more of a community space. He chose to focus on coffee and visited cafés around France in a quest for inspiration. Now, almost five years later, the Bleu Olive café continues to be a staple of Rue de Grenelle. 

Juline Hanaut, Bleu Olive barista, said that her father wanted, “(a) place that is warm, that feels like a home, that you can meet people and chat with them, a nice place, were you’re comfortable.” And a comfortable place it is. Upon entering, you will be invited by a welcoming and familiar blue that is accented by a warm yellow. Her mother, Heloïs, was in charge of the decorating the space. “We wanted to make it feel like a home, and not a coffee place,” stated Hanaut. It is a welcoming place that does, feel familiar which during a pandemic is something many may long for in Paris.

The storefront lit up on Rue de Grenelle in Paris' 7th arrondissement at night

According to Hanaut, throughout the pandemic the Bleu Olive has stayed open and weathered the ups and downs that COVID-19 has presented. During the first confinement, the Bleu Olive was making around 20-30% of its normal sales. In the months following the first confinement, the sales were just around 60-70%. Now, as France remains in confinement the Bleu Olive is back to maintaining just 20-30% of its normal sales. Hanaut has been working through all of it, and for the first two months of this pandemic, completely voluntarily. For this barista It is about being a space for people to briefly visit during this second lockdown.

The goal of this café is to be here for its customers and to be friendly to those able to visit. Even with masks up and keeping a distance it is important to be nice to one another according to Hanaut. With France struggling to weather the pandemic and small businesses relying on minimal sales, masks are key – in fact they are mandatory to be worn throughout France to help keep places like the Bleu Olive open.

“I am wearing one all day, so you don’t get contaminated, so please when you come into my shop don’t try to contaminate me. I don’t want to get COVID. If we do, we are going to have to close. I’d rather be careful,” Hanaut stressed. With sales up just a bit more of this lockdown and the rules a little lighter, things are looking better in Hanaut's opinion.

“In one way I love this mood of confinement, I feel like it brings people closer together. Usually you don’t talk that much to customers, especially in France. During confinement you talk to people, people are glad to see you because they haven’t seen anyone in like three days. So, I love this feeling of being a bit closer to people. People are so pleased to be here. I feel like it creates links between people, I like it,” said Hanaut.

For this family having the café open is important to keep them busy. It is a way to stay busy during a challenging time and it can help benefit others throughout the community. Having the café open during this challenging time is no longer about the money. The family wants to promote other small businesses in the neighborhood and give out food to homeless. “We are more here for people, than for money. We feel like that’s the important thing after all,” Hanaut said.

Hanaut always wears a mask while working and urges all patrons of the store to do so as well to protect her, her family, and the entire community

In hopes of projecting positivity during a trying time, the café has become home to many students in the area. Undergraduate and graduate students from AUP have found a place here at Bleu Olive. “I feel like it is a good place here because here it is right in the middle of all the buildings. So, when you’re going from one class to another sometimes you might pass us,” said Hanaut.

The folks at Bleu Olive do not mind one bit being a part of the AUP community either. Hanaut especially appreciates it: “I love speaking English. For me it’s like the dream. I am working, I am getting some money, and at the same time I get to practice English. It is amazing for me.”

The Hanaut family also recognizes that they are a part of many people’s day here in Gros-Caillou. With their being both an older population in the area mixed with a lot of students the Bleu Olive is a space for many – especially during the pandemic. Hanaut's mother, is a psychologist and the family is well-aware of the need to take care of your mental health. They feel like their café can be a positive part of someone’s day.

The Bleu Olive café is a space for all, not just those in the Gros-Caillou neighborhood or the 7th arrondissement. This place manages well because of the strong and welcoming family behind it. It remains open for those who can come for a quick coffee to go. Although masks are up you can be rest assured that smiles will be present during your quick trip to this warm and welcoming café.