Simone Chevalot: The woman behind Buvette Chez Simone

Simone Chevalot is the Simone behind Buvette Chez Simone. Don’t be surprised if she’s the one who serves you your glass of wine, brings you your dish or polishes the glasses at the bar of her establishment on Avenue du Parc. Owner, and she polishes the glasses? Of course, this still exists! The bar opened its doors in June 2008 and was an instant success. Here’s our interview with the ambitious and inspiring woman.

“It all started at the National Theatre School”

Simone attended the National Theatre School and while in school, she worked in several restaurants, including Le Pistou, L’Express (where she began to develop an interest in wine), Le Petit Italien, and several others. She finished school in 1999 and then auditioned while still working as a waitress. “I did three years like that; waitressing while I was waiting to find a role. When you’re in school, you’re in a framework, you do what you love from morning to night. It’s a very rich experience. And then one day, when you leave this environment, you get a big shock: you always have to prove that you are good, that you are capable of doing the role you are looking for. If you don’t have confidence in yourself, like I did when I left school, you’re very unhappy.” 

She then asked herself what she knows how to do; “I said to myself, I know how to work in restaurants, I like restaurants, I go out to restaurants and bars.” And then the idea for the Buvette began.

The idea of the Buvette

Simone began to dream of a buvette like Europeans have known so well for so long; lively, with children, parents, seniors, everyone standing, sitting, having fun – an inclusive, friendly, non-protocol place. “I was thinking of a no-frills wine bar, with a big counter, with breads, charcuterie, cheeses, brandade…” she explains this while waving her arms, and smiling. “I didn’t want a restaurant at first, I really saw a bar, I often find it more friendly and lively than a restaurant.”

Why Parc Avenue? “I grew up on Parc and spent my teenage years here! I used to take the bus on Parc to go to Collège Français… so I have a deep attachment to this street. It doesn’t look like anything, it’s zoned commercial, there are Jews, English, Portuguese, Greeks, Outremont ladies. I love it. I really wanted something on Parc Avenue.” The place was to be called the Buvette, for its evocative name, but her business partner wanted something more personal, Chez Simone; between the five owners, the name became the Buvette chez Simone.

The Buvette chez Simone

She went to see her former boss at Le Pistou, Éric Bélanger, and they talked about the project for several months. Then, together, they went to Michel Bergeron, who worked in the restaurant industry before launching Bergeron les vins. “In addition to liking his energy, we were looking for wine expertise, which he came in and filled.” Then Fabien Lacaille, owner of Bily Kun and a friend of Simone’s for years, joined the project, bringing additional expertise to the team. Finally, while setting up the project, a friend of Le Petit Italien, Gabrielle Bélanger, was very supportive and also got involved. 

Once they found the space, they called upon Zébulon Perron – a famous Montreal designer. “It was one of his first projects. Zebulon is a friend and the connection was natural. He understood the spirit and the concept, and Gabrielle helped him a lot with the decor and the layout.” There were, at the time, a few places with an industrial look, but the Buvette was definitely one of the first to go with that style. “Buvette Chez Simone was also the first place in Montreal that served real food in a bar,” says Jean-Philippe Tastet. “Ah, the rotisserie was Eric’s idea. He wanted a signature dish that would set us apart from the rest. He also wanted a Greek salad in honour of La Scala, the Greek bar that was there before.”

Restaurant entrepreneurship

“It’s so exciting to envision a place in terms of textures, décor, ambiance. It’s a lot of fun,” she tells me with sparks in her eyes. In October 2012, Simone opened the Furco bar with her partners Éric and Fabien, Joëlle Trottier (head of the buvette for the first 3 years, and chef and owner of Furco), Jean-Francois (ex Baldwin Barmacie, who takes care of the floor and reception), Alejandra Ponce Pacheco – the queen of administration – and Zébulon Perron. Zebulon was looking for a space, and he found this.

“We weren’t keen on the idea of downtown, but when we got here, wow! It’s like you’re somewhere else! The church, the buildings; it was love at first sight. We wanted something that was more like Berlin, with high ceilings, elements of decor that show that time has left its mark. We wanted a real bar feel, less of a wine bar. And so we came up with the concept of a ‘bar where you can eat well’, inspired by the buvette, but not the buvette. A little later, the space next door became available and the location is so inspiring that we jumped at the chance. Eric had been dreaming of having a pizzeria since the beginning of our adventure. The light of the space, the shades of green and pink; it’s a magical place. He wanted picnic tables and plants. He got his plants.”

The team stayed the same as at Furco and Café Parvis was born.

The success of her establishments

What does she think makes her establishments so popular, despite the passing of time? “I’m not a businesswoman at heart, I’m not really rational, I’m not very organized; my good move was to join forces with such good partners. We have a great team.” She also tells me that these days there is so much competition that “you can’t open something without wanting to open it with your heart. You can’t just want to make money, it won’t work; you have to be committed and dedicated to the highest level. And quality is more important than before, I think. Now people go out more, they know if it’s well done or not. And I think the owners have to be there; it always helps to know that they’re working on their project. And the importance of respecting your clients! We have to be nice to our clients.”

You can sense a touching sensitivity in her. “The restaurant business is hard, but it’s so beautiful at the same time. I think what touches me the most is the harmony of a space, which becomes a meeting place, where friendships are made, where landmarks and memories are created. You develop bonds between people, and that, I find touching.”

To cope with the crisis, Simone Chevalot created La Fermette à Table for an option on the Buvette menu to take home and enjoy! 

Thank you Simone, for everything. Long live Buvette Chez Simone!

Photography by Maude Perrin

From the magazine