After 40 years at the helm of Café Jean, an institution in Roubaix, Christian and Rita leave

The Demay couple had been at the helm of Café Jean for more than 40 years. They will take their well-deserved retirement on 30 June. (© RC / Lille News)

the Giovanni coffeea real Roubaix institution, has established itself Boulevard Gambetta here he is soon 90 years old. A family bistro planted in the city, a real concentrate of northern culture. On the menu: freshly peeled chips from the chef, American-style fillet, Flemish carbonnade or even the traditional “free soup”, adored by regulars.

At the controls of the bistro, we find Christian Demay, which customers prefer to call “John”. A grandfather in love with him, which he received as a family heirloom. Beside him, Rita, his eternal right arm. And their daughter, Sandrinawho promised his parents to “help them out” until June 30thdate Christian will return his apron.

A look at the epic of a lifetime, that of the Demays.

A family history

Café Jean is first and foremost the story of Christian’s grandmother, who opened the place in 1933. Then, here we are in 1956, when Christian’s mother, Marie-Louise, or “Marie-Lou” for those who knew her well, takes the upper hand controls the bistro located in boulevard Gambetta.

We had to find a name for the coffee, give it a new identity. “Café Marie-Lou, at the time, did not pass, it was a woman’s name,” says Christian. So she called him “Jean”, like her husband, Christian’s father. However, the loyal customers of Café Jean don’t get used to it: for them Christian is Jean.

Rita and Christian have two daughters, whom they love deeply but regret not having seen them grow up. Sandrine is one of them. Dedicated to her parents, her broad smile never leaves her face, even though she notices the strain of her services and getting up at dawn. She promised her father to help her until she hung up her apron.

A close-knit couple who never counted their hours

But the family transmission stops there: soon the Jean café will no longer be run by a Demay. Everyone has plans, wishes, dreams, something else. Starting with Rita, who wanted nothing more than a small house far from Roubaix where she could watch her grandchildren grow up and make up for lost time. You are done: by this summer they will have moved into a renovated building, surrounded by the fields of the Aisne.

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For his part, Christian is a fighter. Over the years he has made strong friendships with some of his customers, who expected him to pack their bags, for Aisne, therefore, but also for Doubs and why not for Reunion., Same. “All I want is to have fun,” sums up the boss simply.

The couple never counted the hours. Prolonged services or even shortened nights, Rita she confides that she has had a “stressful life”. She got up at 3:30 am to go to work in Marcq-en-Barœul, then she put on her apron to provide the lunch service and help her husband, who has made it a point of honor to only serve. fresh food.

With drawn features, she is no less nostalgic when she recounts her years spent at Café Jean. “The girls grew up here too, and Christian can say what he wants, if it depended on him, he would be a few years older! “

40 years at the service of customers

The head of the establishment is a humble and discreet man who doesn’t talk much about his difficulties. However, some health problems led him to retire, which he considered premature: “Everything has a beginning, everything has an end, but hey, I would have worked well until I was 65! “, He too confirms. He will have spent more than 40 years cooking, serving and satisfying his ever-growing number of customers. After long months of closure due to Covid, Christian has seen his clientele flourish, up to 50 seats on the day of the reopening of the restaurants, in June 2021.

His miraculous recipe? Bernard, used to the place, proclaims it in his place: “Do you remember your grandmother’s kitchen? This is what you have here. »Café director Jean offers fresh, homemade and lovingly made products. He peels his fries by himself and by hand, whether for 10, 20 or 50 people. He offers his soup. He shares his coffee willingly. But today he abdicates. On June 30 he will wear the apron for the last time.

End of applause

With a heavy heart, the Demay family spends their last services in the facility that has seen all the children of the family grow up. “I wasn’t born on the corner of the table, well, I was born here, it was my first home,” she laughs, with her recognizable Nordic accent.

A well-deserved retreat, both for Rita, a discreet but faithful companion, and for Christian, a grumpy grandfather with a tender heart. Their daughter Sandrine, meanwhile, will have kept her promise. “Luckily you’re here,” his father often whispers to him.

“Luckily there is a bistro not far from the new house! exclaims Cristiano. Finally, the change of scenery will only be short-lived.

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