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  • DATE: 09-06-2020
  • PLACE: Paris





opening a restaurant during the covid emergency- Paris

Maria is a stubborn person and in love with France. After studying political science and working at some unsatisfactory companies, she met Arnaud, a Parisian-Apulian, chef in a restaurant he owned in the Opéra area.

When they met, Maria was still a student and to support herself she worked in a Chinese shopkeeper’s hut not far from Arnaud’s restaurant. Their encounter was a simple one, a game of glances, an invitation to dinner and so they fell in love overnight.

Their story has been put to the test several times: shortly after the start, Maria left for a semester in Bolivia, then returned, graduated, and started working for an insurance company taking shifts even at night. Even the profession of Arnaud was not easy: being in the kitchen he made gruelling hours and practically lived in his restaurant called “Gioia mia”.

The early days

Maria often sneaked into the restaurant and breathed the atmosphere: the dishes, together with the customers, are the most beautiful things in a restaurant. Her beloved prepared the dishes, an Apulian cuisine adapted to the French taste and taught to Arnaud by an old aunt. The clientele, journalists, lawyers and professionals in the area. Everything had a magical aura in that place where Maria refined her palate.

The only negative note was Arnaud’s partner. When setting up an activity, the person with whom you choose to make the investment is the most important aspect. Arnaud shared the restaurant with a long-time friend of his who soon got tired of the effort. His role was to be that of a waiter-cashier-accountant, the place had about twenty place settings and there was a lot of work, meals were served for lunch and dinner.

After being unemployed, Maria became more and more passionate about Arnaud’s restaurant and, seeing all the difficulties of management, she proposed to help him. She started serving at the tables, learning the names of the wines, reviewing the ingredients of the dishes in the kitchen with Arnaud. Thus, was born her great passion for catering and she understood that she would have wanted to do that in life.

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At full speed

The work shifts were exhausting, the morning began with the cleaning of the room, while Arnaud went shopping, then the table service started until at least 4pm. Before the dinner service, Maria often laid down on a small bench at the upstairs of the room where there was a mezzanine. That was her only moment of relaxation in the day, a couple of hours just for her.

Sometimes she found the strength to go to the classical dance lesson, that little pleasure she kept as a child, the sense of peace and harmony that she recovered once the shoes were worn was her little escape from reality: a room with parquet flooring in the centre of Paris , the large windows of a period building that served as a backdrop to those moments of freedom.

Despite the fatigue, Maria never complained about the hours or the workload, it was her choice to stay next to Arnaud in his business! After a while, however, she began to find the attitude of Arnaud’s partner – who went to the restaurant only to collect money – unbearable. She was still an employee and had no say in the matter but could not bear to see the business deteriorate just because of his behaviour.

The break up

The restaurant’s business was booming from the point of view of the satisfaction of customers in love with the little “Gioia mia”. At the same time, however, the “cost” of Arnaud’s partner became too large, prevented Arnaud from hiring another waiter and relieving Maria of many labours with at least shifts.

In 2017 the time came for an important and very painful choice: to close the restaurant. Arnaud’s partner did not want to sell his shares to the world at all and there was no choice but to close the company. The pace was too tiring and the turnover too low to allow the business to continue.

Maria had now learned the trade and wanted to enter the company, she also wanted to be the owner and to have the power to decide on what was going on. Due to the stress of the restaurant, Maria and Arnaud were constantly fighting, until Maria left the house where they lived on a rainy winter afternoon.

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The return

The separation from Arnaud did not last long. A very difficult couple of months in which Maria wandered around Italy in search of herself, all to find again the confirmations within herself that she wanted her life in France and next to the man she loved.

In the meantime, Arnaud had managed to sell the business to Chinese people who would have made it into a sort of bazaar. The Lafayette Galleries, a stone’s throw from the restaurant, are now besieged by groups of Chinese tourists looking for expensive clothes, some parts of the side streets seem a sort of luxury China Town.

Returning home, Maria proposed Arnaud to fund their restaurant together. They thought long and in detail about the activity to manage it by themselves avoiding the gruelling hours. They imagined to limit working hours to lunch and pre-dinner, Maria drew up a business plan and calculated the costs.

Gioia Mia

After months and months of research, searching Paris far and wide, they finally found a place not far from where “Gioia Mia” was. In this way they could have recovered the customers, with whom they had remained in contact, however, but the place was completely to be restored.

With difficulty they put together the money, signed the contracts, bought the materials, and started the work. Making a renovation in Paris is not easy, there are few reliable people who know how to do masonry well and the electrical system was all a disaster! In those few square meters, Maria and Arnaud, however, imagined what their new life would be.

There is a large window overlooking a side street of the Opéra district, with the space in front to put tables in the summer. They have renovated the cellar where Maria would like to put the mixer to make pizza and store the highest quality food and wines, they have enlarged the bathroom that previously had an area of ​​not even a square meter so that customers can be more comfortable. They made the kitchen more accessible for Arnaud, built a counter for the bar … all this in very tiny space, à la parisienne!      

The coronavirus emergency

In February of this year, after the help of Maria’s parents who had come from Rome for a few weeks, the restaurant seemed to be almost ready. There were some finishing touches, the very last purchases to make. Maria and Arnaud with the help of loved ones found the tables, restored old chairs with lots of padding… the opening could have been in March or at most in April.

Then the lockdown, deserted Paris, the ban on moving and carrying on the work. And after a while, the awareness that nothing would have been like before anymore, that the restaurant sector is one of the most affected ones and must be rethought from scratch. Many restaurants in their area have closed their doors, Maria and Arnaud must completely change the setting they had imagined: it will no longer be possible to serve the dishes at the tiny tables with people very close to each other as it was until two months ago.

Their menus will have to change, the communication, the business model … go towards the takeaway dishes with a strong communication strategy and add alongside the sale of food other services could be the only way to finally give life to their new adventure with many unknowns to face step by step.

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