Fresh fish for sale at Ô Divin Poisson. Photo: Jeffrey T Iverson

This small community in the 19th and 20th arrondissements remains a little different from the rest of Paris. Jeffrey T Iverson meets a new generation of artisans and entrepreneurs…

Line 11 of the Paris Métro makes stops at some of the French capital’s liveliest plazas, from Châtelet and Hôtel de Ville with their throngs of tourists, theatre-goers, and commuters, to the Pompidou esplanade with its spectacle of performers and portrait artists, to the colourful chaos of skateboarders and political activism on place de la République. But continue on the line just a bit further to the stop named Jourdain, take the long escalator ride up to the exit, and you’ll find yourself stepping onto a plaza of a very different kind. A kaleidoscope of blooms from flower stands greets you. Tall, green trees shade a street gently sloping down before you, while a lovely, doubled-spired Gothic-revival church looms overhead. People relax on café terraces, gaze at pastry shop windows and browse through outdoor book stalls. Cars roll by, but somehow the air seems fresher here. If this resembles no other plaza in Paris, it’s perhaps because for a long time it wasn’t part of Paris at all. Welcome to the hilltop neighbourhood known as Village Jourdain, the historical centre of the once-free commune of Belleville.

The 19th-century Gothic-revival Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Belleville greets you as you emerge from Jourdain Métro station. Photo: Jeffrey T Iverson

In the shadow of Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Belleville, at 10 rue Jourdain sits the elegant pastry shop Demoncy-Vergne, better known to generations of locals as La Pâtisserie de L’Eglise. When the shop first opened in 1887, Belleville had already been annexed to Paris for 27 years. Yet, even today, locals still seem to forget that. “I often catch myself saying things like ‘I need to go to Paris today’,” laughs pastry chef Jean-Claude Vergne. “Of course we are in Paris here, but for us it’s also a village, the old heart of what was formerly the independent village of Belleville.”

In those days, bourgeois (residents of the bourg, or city) from Paris regularly climbed this hill to dance and drink in the guinguettes of Belleville, where wine was exempt from state taxes, being beyond the Paris customs barrier. And though technically independent no more, in many ways this ‘village’ remains as self-sufficient as ever.

The pastry shop Demoncy-Vergne. Photo: Jeffrey T Iverson

“Village Jourdain is my neighbourhood, and I must admit that I rarely leave it,” says Julie Leclerc, a children’s literature specialist for rue du Jourdain’s Librairies L’Atelier. “Just walk around a bit and you realise that beyond the bookstores there are also little independent shops all along rue de Belleville and the surrounding streets, from cheesemongers, to charcuterie shops to wine merchants. People know each other, gather at the same few cafés – like Les Rigoles, Le Zephyr and La Cagnotte. Really, we’ve got everything we need here.” And this diversity of delights only continues to grow, thanks to a new generation of like-minded entrepreneurs. In fact, today, bourgeois (or at least bobos) are once again being drawn from all across Paris to experience the pleasures offered by this hilltop village.

The ‘Village Jourdain’. Photo: Jeffrey T Iverson

Walk the two main commercial axes of Village Jourdain, which basically form a T in front of the cathedral, and one soon discovers that this neighbourhood has food for both body and mind. Rue de Belleville, stretching out to the east and west, is dedicated to the former, while rue du Jourdain, extending south 138 metres down to rue des Pyrénées, is largely focused on the arts and letters.

“Rue du Jourdain has rather become the bookshop street,” says Julie Leclerc from Librairies L’Atelier, which was founded in 1993 as a generalist bookshop at 2 Bis rue du Jourdain, and later expanded with a children’s bookstore and a shop dedicated to travel, fine arts and BDs/graphic novels just across the street at 3 rue Constant Berthaut (which forks off rue Jourdain and connects back to rue de Belleville). “Thanks to a large, faithful neighbourhood clientele, all the shops here are doing very well!”

Librairie La Cartouche. Photo: Jeffrey T Iverson

More than a decade ago, Olivier Delautre opened a bookstore here unlike any of L’Atelier’s three locations: an antiquarian shop. Today, La Cartouche stands next to the florist La Nouvelle Ère at 7 rue du Jourdain, its outdoor stalls of used paperbacks constantly perused by passers-by. Inside, the impeccably arranged floor-to-ceiling shelves of rare tomes of literature, poetry and history invite visitors to share in the intellectual passions of the owner.

“I started buying old books when I was about 15,” says Delautre. “I immediately loved the ambiance of old paper, the smells, the exquisite book bindings, this whole world of antiquarians. There’s a book I love by Balzac called Le Cousin Pons, about a collector… And antiquarian booksellers are collectors of a whole other kind, they allow you to discover rare, precious editions, teach you about publishers and illustrators, paper and bindings, and share countless extraordinary stories of authors and books.” While Olivier lives out his passion, across the street Anne Boille, a graduate of the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Appliqués et des Métiers d’Arts, lives out hers in her atelier at 7 rue Constant Berthaut. A master of a Renaissance-era technique of painting scenes in reverse on plates of glass, she has become renowned for works capturing the perpetual motion of Parisian life.

Artist Anne Boille in
her rue Constant Berthaut atelier

“More than just paint, I like to explore ideas of depth, volume, transparency, movement, perspective,” she explains. “I find inspiration in my neighbourhood and its cafés, which embody the soul of vieux Paris.”

Boille is far from the first artist to feel that way. “The photographer Willy Ronis lived for 20 years in this quartier, and Belleville continues to attract hundreds of artists, many of whom open their ateliers to the public every May.”

Browsing books in Village Jourdain. Photo: Jeffrey T Iverson

Happily, the works by the artists at the Demoncy-Vergne pastry shop on the corner of rue du Jourdain and rue de Belleville can be appreciated all year long. And they are, but not just by locals. “We have clients that come from across Paris, and even the suburbs now, for our brand of pâtisseries gourmandes,” says Jean-Claude Vergne. “We may be removed from the centre of Paris, but we nonetheless have a boutique which is beautiful and historic, and pastries which are stylish and boast a harmony of flavours and colours.” But Vergne acknowledges that gourmets don’t come to Village Jourdain solely for his pastries any more. “Today, we’re seeing rue de Belleville evolving in terms of the diversity and quality of its businesses,” he says. “There are new organic produce shops, gourmet grocers, quality butchers and bakeries… And it’s raising up the neighbourhood as a whole.”

Fromagerie Beaufils attracts Instagrammers from all around the world. Photo: Jeffrey T Iverson

Camille Brossard, of Fromagerie Beaufils, whose mouthwatering window displays of bonbon-like chèvre cheeses now entice Instagrammers to traverse Paris to visit this century-old cheese shop at 118 rue de Belleville, confirms the trend. “I think there is a real movement building among the businesses in this part of Belleville, thanks to a new generation of business owners who share a similar philosophy in their work,” she says. “Now people are talking about Village Jourdain as a foodie neighbourhood – where you have great food shopping and restaurants.”

Two key figures driving this movement today are Redha and Naoufel Zaïm, the brothers behind Ô Divin Épicerie at 130 rue de Belleville. This gourmet grocery of exceptional fine foods from artisan producers of olive oils, natural wines, meats, fruits and vegetables was born in 2014 of a struggle to keep afloat their critically-lauded but isolated wine bar/restaurant, then half a kilometre north of Jourdain, near the Buttes-Chaumont park. When a sympathetic restaurant client asked if the brothers would like to take over his rue de Belleville triperie, they jumped at the chance.

Ô Divin Épicerie & Primeur. Photo: Jeffrey T Iverson

“Our restaurant being on such a deserted street had frustrated us no end,” says Redha. “Yet we still had this desire to share the foods we love, to share our story… And that’s what opening this épicerie was about. And after all that frustration we had, it was an immediate success.”

THE LOVE OF FLAVOURS

That success carried over to their produce shop, Ô Divin primer, which opened next door in 2016, and to their fish shop, Ô Divin Poisson, which launched a little further down in 2018. Their secret? “It’s l’amour du goût, the love of flavours,” says Redha. “I grew up in Algeria, on the Mediterranean. I remember the cherry festival every year in my village, my grandmother’s whole cherry jams, the seasons of fresh walnuts and apricots… It’s that kind of pleasure that we’ve sought to reproduce here. So when we have clients in their 60s who buy our fruit or vegetables and come back the next day saying, ‘I rediscovered the taste of produce from my childhood!’, I get goosebumps. That’s why I get up early every morning.”

Ô Divin Poisson. Photo: Jeffrey T Iverson

Five years after opening, Ô Divin’s épicerie is no longer the only gourmet grocer in Village Jourdain – Maison Castro, dedicated to artisan wines, charcuterie and other Mediterranean delicacies, opened in 2015 at 114 rue de Belleville. (In 2019, it was given a new name – Apertivus – but the boutique continues to offer the same fine foods.) Nor is Ô Divin Primeur the only principled produce shop now – Reservoir Bio opened in 2016 at No. 109, offering zero-waste organic groceries and produce in bulk, while Au Bout du Champ, offering produce fresh from farms in the Paris region, opened at No. 140 in 2019. That’s just one of several businesses dedicated to artisan foods and drink to set up shop in Village Jourdain this year – others include Cheval d’Or at 21 rue de la Villette, the hip new Franco-Asian cantine by chef Taku Sekine, who also owns Dersou in Paris’s 12th district.

Impressed by this new crop of personalities, last spring Redha Zaïm teamed up with his friend Aurélie Soubiran, a wine and food events specialist, to assemble local businesses and create a food and wine fair in Village Jourdain. And so one weekend last June, the first edition of the ‘Le Grand Bazar’ was held on the pedestrian rue Constant Berthaut between rue du Jourdain and rue de Belleville. Businesses only months old set up stands alongside each other and several guest winemakers to feed 350 hungry and thirsty visitors. Among them was the freshly-renovated butcher’s shop La Tête de Boeuf (130 rue de Belleville) and Les Bières de Belleville, the neighbourhood’s first craft brewery which started brewing in May at 9 rue Jean-Baptiste Dumay in a 19th-century warehouse next to La Cagnotte bar – their principal client.

Xavier Serre, who opened Village Jourdain’s first organic bakery this year, fulfilling his dream of being a neighbourhood boulanger, found the gathering inspiring. “There is a lovely dynamic that Ô Divin is creating in the neighbourhood,” he says. “Sometimes people sit around waiting for the town hall to create events, but we’re a community here, and experiences like this remind us of what we can create together.”

And there’s much more to come assures the event’s organiser, Aurélie. “What Village Jourdain has you don’t find everywhere in Paris. It has a real identity, one which can bring people together, thanks to this unique village ambience,” she says. “And that’s what Le Grand Bazar was all about – offering the residents of Jourdain and visitors the chance to partake in a day of festivities, of tastings and gourmet discoveries, and allowing everyone to experience Paris again like a village.”

Fromagerie Beaufils. Photo: Jeffrey T Iverson

BOUTIQUES

MAISON DEMONCY-VERGNE: 10 rue du Jourdain, Tel. +33 (0)1 46 36 66 08

Satisfying discerning sweet-tooths since it opened in 1887, this jewellery-box pastry shop encapsulates the history of French desserts, from their perfect mille-feuille and Paris-Brest to their elegant, eye-grabbing new creations bursting with exotic flavours. Everything is prepared by hand, from chocolates and macarons to petits-fours sandwiches – in short, everything for a chic lunch to go!

LIBRAIRIE LA CARTOUCHE: 7 rue du Jourdain, Tel. +33 (0)6 80 98 28 88

On a street known for its bookstores, Olivier Delautre created the one thing bibliophiles were missing – a fabulous antiquarian shop. Delautre has curated a collection of literature from Dante to Hemingway, complemented by works of poetry, art and history, and including everything from inexpensive paperbacks to exquisite rare editions by such French giants as Balzac, Maupassant and Jules Verne.

FROMAGERIE BEAUFILS: 118 rue de Belleville, Tel. +33 (0)1 46 36 61 71

When Christophe Lesoin took over this historic crèmerie in 2011, he brought a breath of fresh air to the Parisian cheese world – his new approach focused on raw-milk cheeses sourced directly from small producers, aged to perfection, and presented to customers with transparency and competitive prices. His selection of goat’s cheeses is among the best in Paris, as is the quality of friendly service.

Ô DIVIN POISSON: 118 rue de Belleville, Tel. +33 (0)1 40 40 79 41

The third boutique by the creators of Ô Divin is a poissonnerie dedicated to seafood fished or farmed both responsibly and locally. No Iceland cod, no Dutch sole, no Turkish sea bream – all of Ô Divin’s fish come from small-boat fishermen or farms in France. Try just one divine sea bass, oyster, shrimp or clam and it becomes clear that this policy is not only a matter of sustainability but also one of taste.

La Petite Boulangerie de Belleville. Photo: Jeffrey T Iverson

LA PETITE BOULANGERIE DE BELLEVILLE: 120 rue de Belleville, Tel. +33 (0)6 30 12 73 84

Xavier Serre has brought a new philosophy to an old Belleville bakery, as its first boulanger offering exclusively organic breads made with natural leaven. His pastries are made without any artificial flavouring, and everything from desserts to sandwiches is made with seasonal ingredients. His Belleville Bio (buckwheat) baguette? Beautiful! And his French ficelle? Fantastic!

Ô DIVIN ÉPICERIE & PRIMEUR: 128-130 rue de Belleville, Tel. +33 (0)1 43 66 62 63

These gourmet grocery and produce shops were created to bring the products of the acclaimed restaurant Ô Divin to a wider public. A celebration of artisan fine food producers, every olive oil, natural wine, fennel sausage, free-range chicken, Christine Ferber jam, and Île-de-France fruit and vegetable reflects the same devotion to sustainability and flavour.

From France Today magazine

Organic produce on Village Jourdain. Photo: Jeffrey T Iverson
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A native of Saint Paul, Minnesota, and a graduate of NYU’s Institute of French Studies and School of Journalism, Jeffrey T. Iverson has called Paris home since 2000. His stories of maverick chefs, enlightened winemakers and prolific artists have notably appeared in France Today, Time, Centurion and Departures magazines.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Jeffrey Iverson’s articles are the best! His writing is so evocative and the wonderful photos bring me right in – I want to be all the places he writes about! thank you!

  2. Wonderful reading living as I do on the rue Botzaris just by the ever more adorable rue de la Villette a paradise not discovered by tourists.The rue Belleville and Jourdain has always been the loveliest of foodie neighbourhoods for us connoisseurs on the heights of Paris 80 meters above the Seine let alone the Parisians of the area people of moderate means with immense knowledge of quality bread cheese veggies fish and meat. Watching them shop is forever my university of the art of living

  3. Reading your delightful magazine always reminds me why I love Paris and France and why it feels like the true home of my soul. Luckily I have been able to visit many times and now that age and health issues make that impossible, your photos and stories are so important to me. Merci, Merci!

  4. I’ve just come from reading a depressing article (link below) on how luxury high-rises, gentrification and high rents are driving out small retail in San Francisco: “Developers make their money with luxury apartments aimed at high-salaried tech workers, while ground floor retail is an architectural and economic afterthought: giant spaces that any business would have trouble filling with life and justifying financially. “

    The same is happening in London and parts of Manhattan (“high rents blight West Village”). Jeffrey Iverson’s articles are such a relief in showing pretty definitively this isn’t happening to Paris which would effectively be a crime against humanity! I don’t know all of the secret formula that Paris has cracked (reasonable rents?) but obviously strong local support of shops is crucial. In these other places, in addition to the rents and gentrification, it seems the Anglosphere is increasingly lazy and substituting online shopping and delivery of everything. One can only hope Parisians maintain their delight in shopping local and in owner-operated shops. Visitors can do their bit by avoiding those international chains and instead give their custom to smaller truly Parisian shops.

    I think I kind of practiced what I am preaching here, when I lived in Paris many years ago, though I admit my appreciation of this extraordinary creation took longer to develop fully. As it happens I worked not too far down the hill from Belleville at the Hôpital St Louis.

    Ahem, end of sermon.

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jan/09/san-francisco-gentrification-second-wave
    Abandoned stores, empty homes: why San Francisco’s economic boom looks like a crisis
    As the city experiences a new wave of gentrification, businesses are shuttering – and nothing is replacing them
    Adrian Daub, 9 Jan 2020

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