Published on September 1st, 2016 |0
Engineer Hamid Rouchdi’s hunger for new life venture leads to Café Vendôme
Perhaps it was a yearning, or hunger, for the pastries and lifestyle he enjoyed on the French Riviera before moving to the United States in 1998. Perhaps he was tired for working for mega corporations like Orange, Airbus, United Airlines, etc. here and around the world.
Hamid Rouchdi simply said, “It was time to do something new.” Besides, a friend in Casablanca, who in 2014 wanted to make an investment in the United States, helped nudge Rouchdi.
Being an engineer by training, Rouchdi did his due diligence—market and competition analysis—and determined Sandy Springs and Buckhead were perfect markets to open his Café Vendôme, what the French would call a Salon de Thé.
Rouchdi defined a Salon de Thé as “a cozy place with pastries, good coffee and tea…French atmosphere, TVs with French culture, picky on quality and must be authentic.” Rouchdi says that is Café Vendôme—which opened Aug. 20 on the back side of the strip shopping center at 4969 Roswell Road.
Café Vendôme will be open now six days a week (closed temporarily on Mondays) from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays, offering typical French breakfast foods; sandwiches, salads and Entrees Chaudes for lunch; coffee, tea
and juices. Click here for a menu of items and additional information.
For a special treat any time of the day, Café Vendôme offers le café gourmand, an attempt to reconcile coffee with dessert. “It is usually an espresso served with bite size tastes of deliciousness,” Rouchdi explains. “Café Vendôme offers on one plate: an expresso or a latté or a cappuccino and an assortment of miniature desserts celebrating the glory of bitterness and sweetness brought together.”
Café Vendôme also offers ordering of some products online as its website www.cafeVendôme.com, as well as some catering services and corporate gifts and plans on providing lunch boxes for mothers to pick up on the way while taking their children to the neighboring schools. Some of those service are being phased in as the start-up pains pass.
Getting to opening day was not easy. Rouchdi started planning the café in The summer of 2014 and ordering equipment a year ago, before he even had a location leased, because he wanted top-of-the line French pastry ovens, which take time to get delivered in the U.S.
Why French pastry ovens? “You just cannot bake authentic French pastries in American ovens,” Rouchdi explained.
“Café Vendôme is baking refined pastries and baguettes on-site all day long with selected ingredients including gluten free products,” he explained. “We are bringing a pure traditional atmosphere of the Parisian pastry to Atlanta’s community. The most ancestral techniques are combined to produce natural bread and pastries with state-of-the-art bakery equipment.”
To get his pastry chef, Rouchdi went to the Brittany area of France and hired award-winning Chef Karl and moved him to Atlanta. He also is trying to bring a baker from Toulouse, France, and he hired a talented café barista through Atlanta-based Counter Culture Coffee, which is supplying Café Vendôme’s coffee products.
“Recognized as one of the most talented artisans of his generation, Chef Karl has built his reputation on his passion for pastry, and his incredible skill to combine authenticity and innovation,” Rouchdi told BuckheadView.
“He was awarded in many French pastry contests at a regional and national level, certifying his excellence and talent,” Rouchdi added. “He met and learned from top famous French chefs, and was
a subject of various French newspaper articles.”
The biggest problems in opening were with building out the space. Rouchdi tells tale after tale of problems with construction crews and vendors that caused the build-out of The former Fish Monger restaurant location to take eight months instead of the projected four months.
Then when he finally opened, the first week became a nightmare. Café Vendôme was flooded in the first week with hundreds of customers and the young, new staff was unable to keep up with the customer’s needs. At week’s end, the entire staff and Rouchdi were exhausted.
Rouchdi’s decision: Close the café on Mondays for the time being until more staff can be hired, all of the staff is better trained and learn and understand the French names for products and the French culture.
“The immediate rush of customers was great…it reinforced my belief that there was a real need for this type of French café here,” Rouchdi said. “But in another way, it was a bad thing, because we were running out of pastries and food by mid-afternoon. The customers were very understanding and gracious, however.”
He said the chefs and coffee brewer were not getting any sleep because they were working through the night to get ready to open in the morning.
Rouchdi explains that the challenge is human resources. “The problems involve differences in cultural values and changes,” he said. “They are faced
with and learning completely new concepts, but they are willing to learn.”
Rouchdi said he is employing his engineering training in dealing with the challenges: “Listening first, determine the problem and find a solution. It is not rocket science. It is logic.”
The target for Café Vendôme is to be the favorite meeting place of Atlanta community gourmets. It has already been visited by a group from the Atlanta International School and The French consul to Atlanta.
Rouchdi has lived in Sandy Springs for 12 years. Prior to that he and his wife and two boys resided in the Chastain Park area of Buckhead.
Rouchdi is a French and American citizen who obtained his Executive MBA degree at Goizueta Business School of Emory University in 2007. In addition to French pastries, he enjoys traveling, road biking, swimming, and reading history books.
Rouchdi is a soccer player and devoted community volunteer who enjoys coaching youth in the Peachtree Road Methodist Church (PRUMC) and NASA soccer clubs. He can be found playing soccer most Sundays on the field at Atlanta International School.
Asked if and where he might open a second Café Vendôme, Rouchdi is quick to say he wants a location in Buckhead and believes he will need more than one location in order for the business to really be successful and profitable.