Myrthe Epicerie & Cantine
There's nothing more relaxing, refreshing, and stimulating than sitting in the loft at Myrthe, nestled between the coffee shop Ten Belles and the florist Bleuet Coquelicot. The rainy and cold Friday weather necessites a deliciously-strong café filtre as I sat down with the owners (and best friends) Laura and Marion to discuss the development of the business as well as their opinions and observations on Paris' evolving food culture.
The friends have known each other for the last fifteen years. Though Laura spent six years living abroad, they both grew up in Paris, loving and feeling a certain dedication to the city. After each having worked in separate professional disciplines for several years, they decided to open a hybrid épicerie-cantine. Though neither had a professional background in food, they benefited from an intense interest in it and the support for quality products easily-felt in Paris. They were motivated by their dreams of creating a convivial space where people could purchase responsibly-sourced goods as well as come together to enjoy food in an atmosphere that is both amiable and inviting, two qualities you feel immediately upon entering.
This warmth is communicated in the decor, which Laura says takes inspiration from Scandinavian design. This aesthetic gets carried further in the épicerie : I marvel over the perfectly-curated shelves of products coming from all over France, giving a variety of representation from regions throughout the country. The inventory is a result of products they've tasted and enjoy themselves as well as goods they've discovered from meeting producers at salons. In determining what they carry, Marion cited a list of criteria, emphasizing that the products be French and completely natural (no preservatives, no additives), but interestingly, they're not looking for specifically organic products. "The organic label is not a true indication of quality," says Marion. "The label is expensive, and there's so many producers creating incredible products that aren't designated as organic for this reason."
A discussion of their proximity to Ten Belles and to other cafés promotes questions of competition, but what they say surprises me : "Similar businesses don't really seem to be focused on competition. Our relationship with Ten Belles is rather complementary, as we're primarily an épicerie while they focus themselves in coffee. Though we both sell Belleville Brûlerie coffee, they do cappuccinos, lattes, and other specialty coffees while we simply do the café filtre."
She continues in saying, "There's a lot of streets in Paris right now which are concentrated on food-focused businesses : cafés, épiceries like us, and restaurants, but they don't seem to be competing against one another, rather benefiting from the fact that the knowledge of their presence here drives business to these areas and gets divided among them. I think if you offer enough variety in products and services then there's going to be enough differentiation among yourself and other businesses that people will get drawn to these spots for separate reasons."
I ask then about Myrthe's location, just off the Canal Saint-Martin. They say that the development of these new cafés resulting from the third-wave coffee culture and smaller, independent shops in Paris is a very Rive Droite movement, concentrating itself around the 10th, 11th, 12th, and 20th arrondissements. The Left Bank's issue is that the avenues are too big and therefore too complicated to support these smaller types of business. The streets are less desirable places for walking and simply finding a café to stop inside. Here, the Canal Saint-Martin is more like a small, intimate neighborhood. It serves as its own community within the city.
This late in the day, I notice that there's only one other table occupied. Across from me sits a mother with her teenage son, enjoying what I assume is an early evening snack. The observation provokes the question of clientele, resulting in an unexpected response. "We have a very diverse customer base," Marion explains. "There's families, there's couples, there's people that come in by themselves. We have a lot of people who we see multiple times during the week on their lunch break, and others who come in looking for a specific product from the boutique. I see people of all ages, young and old. There doesn't seem to be one culture that gets focused here or that is drawn to the space. It applies to everyone."
I love this response, because it seems that so many of the cafés I go to apply to a single person : the young professional looking for a good shot of their latte art conducive to their Instagram aesthetic (100 likes? 1500 likes? One can only hope...) But this isn't the case for Myrthe. The variety of their products and the diversity of their focus supports Marion's comment. All of this results in a space perfect for any desire, whether you're taking a summer walk in hopes of finding a perfect picnic wine, if you're looking for the ideal jambon-beurre sandwich for lunch, or if you simply want to take a coffee alone. Myrthe provides it all.
"The benefit of working with your best friend," Laura says, "is that when I go to work, it feels like I'm coming home. We work every day together, because it's just us right now. It's tiring but we love it."