Maxime Charbonier is a charming and friendly young Frenchman who once went to America. Well, he brought some of the best of America back with him and turned it into a thriving little business here in Lyon, called “Best Bagels Co.”
The cafe opened in December 2004.
Maxime went to work in Washington D.C. at the turn of the century as a cook in French restaurants. Whilst there, and during his travels, notably to NYC, he discovered and fell in love with bagels. In 2001 the idea of opening a bagel cafe once back in France began to suggest itself to him.
We chatted about what happened next.
“I had gone to America without knowing when I’d come back. I left France for an indefinite period of time. Once there I got into bagel culture. One of my favourite places was the Georgetown Bagelry
in Washington D.C. New York was also a source of inspiration for me. It all turned into a kind of curious passion.”
So what aspect of bagel culture did he want to import into France?
“The idea was to sell the products I personally liked. In fact, at first the idea was to import bagels for my personal consumption, then it turned into a will to reflect the fun and adaptable side of the way Americans eat. I wanted to offer what I see as being the best of America and do it by going straight to the most authentic aspects of it. Another imperative was to prepare bagels in front of clients. No pre-assembled stuff.”
And what’s on the menu?
“Classic Philly, Boston Bacon, Veggie Orgy, Louisiana Fire, Cape Cod Tuna, N.Y. Pastrami, are a few examples, and of course we do New York style hot-dogs with American dressings and coffee to go.”
“We also sell donuts. Boston Creams, Strawberry and Chocolate nut, amongst others."
We also discussed the clientele and the cafe’s development over the years.
“The clientele comes from all age groups, with a core of clients in their 30’s. Many of them have travelled and we enjoy a tourist clientele too. Things went slowly at first because people didn’t really know what bagels were, so it took time for the local clientele to get to know the product. Things are going really well now. We open seven days a week, with brunch on Sundays.”
I walked around to take a few pictures. There is upstairs seating, very cosy, from which you can see your bagels being prepared.
I was particularly surprised to see the amount of authentic American products Maxime offers. Everything from Heinz beans to Froot loops to Hellman’s products to Aunt Jemima, Hershey, Jack D. Barbecue sauces, Doc Pepper and Mountain Dew.
Oh, and here’s today’s special. Yip, the “Go Obama Go”!! With potatoes, comfit tomatoes, cheddar and BBQ sauce. If the Republicans amongst you are disappointed, I am sure that Maxime would appreciate your own recipe!
Maxime caught up with me and said he had to leave for an appointment.
“Oh, sure.” I said. “Can I take a photo of you before you leave?”
“Nah” he replied. “I haven’t shaved yet.”
Not surprising. Goes with the guy. Cool, relaxed, informal and genuine. Just like his cafe.
So, ladies and gentlemen, if ever you come over to Lyon, this place is a must. You’ll get a warm welcome and a real taste of home. Oh, and the Boston Cream is a dream!