Tuesday 8th September 2015: Visitors to Limerick’s famous Milk Market will need no introduction to Sebastien Ridoux and his wife Katarzyna. Sebastien and Katarzyna are the owners of Bon Appetit creperie which has become a favourite among Milk Market customers for many years.
Publish Date: Tuesday 8th September 2015
Written by Nigel Dugdale on behalf of Limerick 2020
Visitors to Limerick’s famous Milk Market will need no introduction to Sebastien Ridoux and his wife Katarzyna. Sebastien and Katarzyna are the owners of Bon Appetit creperie which has become a favourite among Milk Market customers for many years.
The couple could be described as a truly European pairing who have made Limerick their home since they both arrived here over 14 years ago. Sebastien comes from a small town in Northern France not too far from Beauvais. Katarzyna is originally Polish, having grown up in a town just outside Krakow.
Sebastien and Katarzyna exude an air of positivity and contentment as we chat in Culture House, the home of the Limerick European Capital of Culture 2020 bid team on Pery Square. Yet the story of how this happy couple came to meet was not the love story one might come to expect.
Sebastien originally came to Limerick in 2001. His goal was to stay in the city for no more than six months as he worked on improving his English skills. At the time he was in the middle of studying International Trade in a Parisian University.
“I had put my CV into a recruitment agency in Paris who specialised in sourcing international jobs. They quickly found me a job in a call centre in Shannon”, he says.
His first job in Shannon didn’t last very long. Before he even arrived the company had lost the contract for employing French speaking people.
“We started the job but actually had nothing to do. The first few weeks we would sit for the entire working day playing cards. Being typical French people we stood up for ourselves and complained that the situation was not sustainable. They started asking us to do photocopying work for the German speaking team and we simply refused. We ended up negotiating with them to only work two days a week on full pay. This situation lasted a month and we eventually all got fired. It was like a mini French revolution on the West of Ireland”.
Having completed a Masters in Social Studies at university in Krakow, Katarzyna decided to come to Ireland to study for the Cambridge exams in order to become a teacher. After successfully completing the exams in Limerick she left for Taiwan to teach English where she spent a year before returning to Limerick to do further study. It is around that time that she met Sebastien.
Sebastien and Katarzyna hard at work
Sebastien ended up finding himself a job at the famous Java’s Cafe through a friend of his who had links with the then cafe manager. He started working there as a waiter and then worked his way up to become assistant manager.
Katarzyna tells me her first passion has always been teaching but I also really wanted to learn to cook. “In order to make some money I started working in the famous Java’s Cafe which was based on Catherine Street in the city centre. Sebastian was working there as assistant manager. That was where we met”.
This initial encounter didn’t get off to a great start. “I was learning how to be a supervisor and Sebastian had the role of training me in”, Katarzyna says. “He was what we might describe as your stereotypical French man. He was so impatient. There was an arrogance to him that really annoyed me. He complained I wasn’t learning fast enough or that I wasn’t following what he was telling me. I think we can safely say I hated him at the time! I stayed out of his way as much as possible”.
Not long after, Sebastian’s mother became very ill and hadn’t much time to live. He returned to France to look after her and his role as assistant manager in Java’s was filled by Katarzyna.
Six months later Sebastian returned to Limerick where he found a job working at Java’s sister cafe Frenchies which is now home to Fitto Cafe on Catherine Street.
“I learned how to make Crepes in Frenchies and quickly noticed that nobody was doing crepes at markets around the country”, Sebastien tells me.
“I bought a van and equipment and started my own part-time business. My boss in Frenchies had a stall at the Milk Market at the time and I made him an offer. We came to an arrangement and I bought his pitch”.
Katarzyna believes that the difficulty in Sebastien’s life around the time his mother was dying changed him as a person. “After he returned to Ireland I noticed a huge difference in him”, she says.
“We met again purely by accident and suddenly developed a really strong friendship. It was nothing to do with ‘falling in love’. I would say I would have considered him my best friend."
The famous Java's cafe once located on Catherine Street in Limerick
Java’s unfortunately closed in 2006. A lot of Limerick people have fond memories of this space. Sebastien says what worked with Java’s was the unique character of the place.
“It had wonderful wooden floors, a large fireplace, a swinging chair in the upstairs space and amazing coffee. The cafe always played great music and used its walls as a gallery space for local artists to showcase their work. There were famous open mike nights for local musicians. It really was ahead of its time”.
Kararzyna believes the secret to the success of Java’s really was in the staff who worked there. “Java’s had such a European feel”, she says.
“The staff mix was extremely multicultural. You had French, Spanish and Polish people. You had some very ‘arty’ local people most of who came from the art college. It was a piece of Limerick social history that really can never be recreated”.
The pair have always had a dream to work for themselves at some point. “We are both very independent spirits”, Sebastien says.
“We both love food and started to think about setting up a business which allowed us to focus on something we are passionate about. We did plenty of research and eventually took over the space at the Milk Market. That is how Bon Appetit came about. We knew there were a lot of plans in the pipeline for the Milk Market and felt this was a perfect time to establish a new business in the space”.
Sebastien serving at the Bon Appetit stall at Limerick's Milk Market
Sebastien and Katarzyna describe their experience of Limerick as a love affair with Limerick city. They describe a certainty that it was the city in which they were both happy to settle and a choice that both are very comfortable with.
“The people of Limerick are what make the city so wonderful”, Sebastien says. “From the moment to come through Shannon Airport and meet the men at customs there is a welcome on the mat. Limerick people don’t realise how relaxed they are and how wonderful their sense of humour is. We have travelled quite a lot in our lives and have seen how other places operate. Other places just seem so stressed out. Even if you go to Dublin you get a sense of chaos and stress in the air. Limerick has always felt totally different.
“We love Rome”, Katarzyna says. “We spent our honeymoon there and have returned on many occasions. We love Italian food. We love the coffee, the history and the buildings. Yet if you were to ask us to choose between Limerick and Rome we would always choose Limerick as our home. The city took us in, the people welcomed us and we simply love it here. It is a human sized city. People know each other and care for each other here. Our customers greet us on the street every day”.
Sebastien and Katarzyna are backing the Limerick 2020 bid
There has been recent good news for the couple as they look forward to welcoming their first child.
“We bought a house in Limerick not long ago”, Sebastien says. “We always wanted to live in an old house with lots of character. We were lucky enough to be accepted for a mortgage but found it so hard to find the home of our dreams. We had a desire to live in a location that was somewhat connected to the city centre. Being part of a nice community was also something we wanted and we were so lucky to come across the home we now live in”.
The home they managed to find is located just off Mulgrave St on St John’s Avenue. The house has deep culture links as it was the house in which the famous Irish broadcaster Ciaran MacMahuna was born.
“The house was famous in Limerick as a ‘party’ house where so many well-known musicians came to record or simply to play at sessions”, Katarzyn says. “There are stories of people queuing on the street to get into the house for parties”.
Interestingly the cultural connection of their new home doesn’t stop there. The house was also home to Limerick artist Bryan McMahon for a number of years.
“Brian visited us about two years ago”, Sebastien tells me. “We wanted to purchase one of his paintings for our home to remind us of the cultural link the house has to Limerick. Brian’s mother is also a wonderful storyteller and we hope to have her visit soon to regale us of stories linked to our home”.
Sebastian and Katarzyna are a couple who love city life in Limerick. They speak of a feeling of being connected to the city but also love the calmness that Limerick offers.
“It is not a big city. The people here respect each other”, Katarzyna says. “There is a remarkably tolerant character in the people of Limerick. From the first moment I arrived in Limerick I was welcomed with open arms. I feel safe here. I feel at home. We are so lucky to live where we live. We are pretty much in the city centre but when we sit in our garden you could be forgiven for believing you are miles outside in the country. We describe our home as a little piece of heaven in Limerick city”.
The love the couple have for Limerick is also reflected in how they speak about each other.
“I couldn’t imagine being with anybody else”, Katarzyna says. “I have built my home with him. In a few months he will be the father of my baby. He is extremely stubborn and impatient but on the other hand is immensely thorough. Sebastien always finishes what he starts. We complement each other. We never fight. We work so well together. He calms me. I calm him”.
The couple are determined that their child will be raised with a deep awareness of who he or she is.
“When our baby is born we will raise him as a Limerick child with a strong European background”, Sebastien says. “It will be learn about its Polish and French backgrounds. It will learn our native languages. Our child will be born in Limerick and that is where we plan to raise our family. The will have a deep knowledge of French and Polish culture but will be raised as a proud Limerick citizen”.