More than 2,640 persons are registered with the Consulat Général De France à Atlanta, and “after being here for four years, I feel as if I’ve met them all,” jokes Arnaud Grimal, sales development director with Air France.
The French-speaking community in Atlanta — which includes persons from other European, North and Central American countries and Africa — is close-knit and growing as the business, educational and cultural connections increase and deepen. There are 140 French-based companies in Georgia and more than 20,000 people work for French companies. According to curated data “answer engine” WolframAlpha, there are almost 32,000 persons speaking French at home in Atlanta — and who knows how many still roll out their high school French occasionally.
Whether you’re interested in doing business with France or appreciate its culture, there are many organizations to satisfy the interests of any Francophile.
Faire des Affaires
The Consulat Général De France à Atlanta represents the French government in six Southeastern states and provides a variety of functions. “First and foremost, my role is to help French nationals living in this region. I also work to foster relations between France and the U.S. Southeast, through activities and initiatives in such domains as scientific research, cultural affairs and commercial exchange,” says Consul General Vincent Hommeril. France-Atlanta, an annual event series created in 2010, is one of its most notable initiatives.
“France-Atlanta reflects the vibrancy of the French and Francophile community in Atlanta,” he says. “The French community in Atlanta is quite dynamic for its size, and I believe that there is a remarkable potential for growth.”
The French-American Chamber of Commerce is the place to go when doing business between the two countries. “Bilateral chambers in most cities are seen as more social clubs but we really are more of a business chamber,” says Jacques Marcotte, president.
The chamber is moving to Peachtree Corners to focus on the technology and start-up sectors. “We do everything possible to be open to everyone, such as helping get a VAT (value-added tax) refund, trade missions — whatever is needed,” says Julie Lambotte, executive director.
La Cuisine Française et Le Vin
You don’t have to be French to enjoy French food and wine, you just have to enjoy food and wine. But, for many, the French have a stronghold on outstanding cuisine and spirits.
Credit: Kathryn Kickliter
Credit: Kathryn Kickliter
Danielle and Luc Beaudet opened up Douceur De France 28 years ago and have locations in Marietta and Roswell. “It’s our American dream. We started at nothing and ended up with something a little bigger.” The pastry shop also has a pétanque court in the back where tournaments are held. “Some customers just come and play by themselves or with friends,” Danielle Beaudet says. “It’s open and free.”
“I think American pastry sometimes looks good but the taste is not so good,” she says. “In France, it’s the taste and less sugar. First is taste; it has to be good.”
To many, Anis Café & Bistro is the French dining epicenter. “Go to Anis on a Friday afternoon and at least half are speaking French,” says chamber president Marcotte. “Especially in the beginning, many French people would come and go to the bar and say ‘I just moved here and I need a lawyer in Atlanta,’ and another French person would have a recommendation,” says Arnaud Michel, who opened the Garden Hills bistro in 1994. “It became a place where if you had a question you could come here or go to the consulate. The restaurant really helped people settle in to Atlanta and start a life.”
Elisabeth Marchal, founder of La Clé des Champs, agrees. “It’s like two degrees of separation. We all know each other and we meet a lot at Anis. You feel at home.”
The bistro specializes in wines by the glass and simple dishes from the south of France. “French cooking is not super complicated or fancy. We don’t have fried food. Of course, we always have mussels but our younger clients love to come for a sandwich and a glass of wine,” Michel says.
Jean-Marc Metairie worked with Michel before opening Atmosphère near Ansley Park. “Since our opening we played the card of the authenticity. Simple, yet refined French food done like in France,” he says. “Twenty years ago our clientele was mainly made of ‘connoisseurs’ who experienced French cuisine when traveling in Paris or on the Riviera and wanted to feel ‘like’ in France, and French people looking for true duck confit or escargots.”
Adding, “Today, the scene is much larger, as we are seeing Atlantans much more educated about French food, and serve a much younger crowd.”
Of course, what is a French dinner without wine and there are several places around town that offer a wide variety of French wines including Amphora Bottle Shop at Bazati, VinoTeca and Holeman & Finch Bottle Shop.
Perrine Prieur opened Perrine’s Wine Shop on the Westside in 2006 because “my experience was that Atlanta lacked boutique wine shops and I felt that women were often ignored in the stores. I wanted a place more welcoming and educational.”
“What I bring is French authenticity. I love the wines and I grew up in Burgundy where I have a sense of place and where these wines come from,” she says. “French wines are made to go with food. It’s not just about drinking but it’s about sharing it with others and the pairing,” she says.
There are plenty of French celebrations and gatherings throughout the year to get a French fix. But there are also groups around town — not to mention the High Museum of Art — where you can celebrate all things French year-round.
The Atlanta French Meetup Group was started in the late 1970s and usually meets at least monthly at Après Diem in Midtown. Typically about 50 persons attend where they enjoy a meal, drink and speak French. “It’s a different mix every month,” says David Aton, one of the organizers. “There’s always about 10 to 15 new people; another 10 to 15 who always come and then others who come occasionally.”
“There are Francophiles everywhere and there is a shared culture. We all love the cuisine, music and the French film industry is very influential,” he says.
The Atlanta Pétanque League celebrates this popular lawn game that is a “distant cousin to bocce ball — but better,” says Peter Gibson, president. About 70 people regularly play at courts in Milton, Roswell, Buckhead and Marietta. Essentially the goal is to stand in a ring and hit a target by lobbing a ball. “It’s an easy game to pick up. It’s fun for everyone to enjoy the French culture and have an opportunity to get together to eat and drink,” Gibson says.
Credit: Jeff Shipman
Credit: Jeff Shipman
Théâtre du Rêve is a professional theater company that brings the French language and Francophile culture to life at the 7 Stages Theater in Little Five Points. Founded 25 years ago by Carolyn Cook, all the actors speak French (with English subtitles projected on a screen). The company produces a wide range of plays from Molière to topical plays about racial oppression in the colonies.
La Clé des Champs organizes hikes to introduce French people, especially newcomers, to the natural beauty of Georgia. “We have a lot of people who come here for business and they don’t know how beautiful Georgia is. It’s green! The wildlife is close and you’ll never see a deer crossing the street in Paris but you can go on I-85 and see it,” says founder Elisabeth Marchal.
La Culture Française
There are several organizations that do their bit to support and revel in French culture. The first stop is usually the Alliance Française d’Atlanta, a worldwide network that is a “reference point for French people abroad and for Francophiles throughout the world,” says Richard Keatley, executive director.
In addition to popular language classes, the alliance promotes French culture to its 700 members with events and helps acclimate French-speaking newcomers to Atlanta. “We engage with the French community by taking them to a baseball game, for instance. Europeans come here and expect something different. Atlanta is a city that you live in; it’s not just for tourists.”
The Atlanta Toulouse Sister Cities Committee promotes communication and relationships between the two cities. “We meet maybe every month and do lunches, parties, soirees, French lessons,” says Betty Davis, a former president. “We have over 100 members, half speak French, but everyone loves France.”
The French Heritage Society is devoted to the preservation, restoration and promotion of French heritage by fundraising to help save places or buildings in peril. “We’re a group of people who love to travel, are interested in art and history and enjoy speakers telling us about history,” says Suzy Wasserman, co-chair of the Atlanta chapter of the society.
The group’s fundraising ability is impressive. They raised more than $2 million in a couple of weeks to help restore Notre Dame. They generally raise about $30,000 to $40,000 a year and have helped restore the French bread ovens at Fort Ticonderoga, the Degas House in New Orleans as well as the Château de la Grange and the Jardin de Silière, both in France. “People in Atlanta love a good party and they love good French wine and food — and food for the brain.”
IF YOU GO
French-American Chamber of Commerce. 3399 Peachtree Road, Suite 500, Atlanta. 404-997-6800, www.facc-atlanta.com.
Douceur De France. 277 S. Marietta Parkway, Marietta. 770-425-5050; 1173 Alpharetta St. Roswell. 770-650-1173, www.douceurdefrance.com
Anis Café & Bistro. 2974 Grandview Ave., Atlanta. 404-233-9889, www.anisbistro.com
Atmosphère Restaurant. 1620 Piedmont Ave., Atlanta. 678-702-1620, www.atmospherebistro.com
Perrine’s Wine Shop. 1168 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta. 404-254-5077, www.perrineswine.com.
Théâtre du Rêve. 1105 Euclid Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-875-3829, www.theatredureve.com.
Alliance Française d’Atlanta. 1201 Peachtree St., Building 400, Suite 1104, Atlanta. 404-875-1211, www.afatl.com.
Consulate General of France. 3399 Peachtree Road, Suite 500, Atlanta. 404-495-1660, www.atlanta.consulfrance.org.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com