When we met Rosamund James, we were immediately smitten. In true Kiwi style, she’s warm, down-to-earth and super chill. You’d never guess she’s a powerhouse entrepreneur who’s established culinary and coffee empires in Lyon.
Rosamund and her French husband co-founded Mokxa, an artisanal coffee roastery that’s taken Lyon by storm. At the same time, they also opened La Boite à Cafe, a hugely popular coffee shop in the très cool neighborhood of Les Pentes de la Croix Rousse. Building on that success, Rosamund opened Konditori, a lunch and brunch destination with Scandi-chic decor and casual healthy fare.
Rosamund recently chatted with LES LOLOS about being a successful entrepreneur in France, balancing baby with business, and how she introduced Saturday brunch to the Lyonnais.
For The Love Of Coffee
I founded Mokxa with my husband, Sadry, six years ago. We roast artisanal coffee for professionals and supply almost 100 establishments with coffee—in Lyon, elsewhere in France, a bakery in Poland and a few cafes in Luxembourg. Part of what has made Mokxa so successful is not only the quality of the coffee beans and the roasting process, but our commitment to quality control. We only work with restaurants or cafes that agree to freshly grind the beans for each shot of espresso they make. If they aren’t willing to do that, we don’t want to partner with them because the quality of the coffee will suffer if they pre-grind the beans.
Luring The Locals
We opened a neighborhood coffeeshop called La Boite à Cafe around the same time we started Mokxa. Initially, locals didn’t want to pay a bit more for artisanal coffee; they preferred crap coffee from down the street. For the first six months, our clientele were mostly foreign exchange students. Over time, word spread and we started to get more business from people living in the neighborhood. [Ed note: Times have changed. We’ve never been to La Boite à Cafe when it’s NOT packed!]
Piece Of Cake
We partnered with several local pastry chefs to sell their cakes at La Boite à Cafe, but ultimately wanted more control over the baked goods and to have the flexibility to adapt the menu. So we decided to look for a small space where we could plug in a Kitchenaid mixer and make our own cakes. We found the perfect spot in the same neighborhood, but the owners decided to double the rent at the last minute. We could no longer justify making a few cakes to sell in the cafe, so we turned it into the original Konditori.
At that time, there were no nearby options if you wanted a quick, healthy lunch. I had the idea to make simple, homemade foods in very limited batches to sell for takeaway. Once we sold out of the day’s menu, it was done. The concept worked really well. As we started to cook more volume, it became clear that we needed a bigger space.
Konditori, Take 2
When I first saw our location on rue Paul Bert, it was a total, disgusting dive. But it reminded me of cafes in New Zealand in industrial parts of the city. I wanted to make Konditori a destination eatery that would bring people to the neighborhood. And it’s worked, especially for brunch. During the week, we have a lot of people who come from neighboring offices to eat, but people come from all over the city for brunch.
When we moved to the bigger space, I suddenly had to figure out how to run a proper restaurant. Part of the success of the original Konditori was our transparency: It was me and the chef. If you came in to order food, you’d see the tiny kitchen and watch me peel carrots for the next day’s soup while I took your order. We had to figure out how to adapt that concept to a bigger space with more staff. We also had to adapt to our neighborhood. We noticed there was nowhere to go in the morning for a quick breakfast and a coffee, so we decided to open at 8am. For two weeks, only one or two people would come in all morning—there just wasn’t the demand. We quickly stopped and have since opened at lunchtime. We also wanted to offer brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Lyonnais usually brunch on Sundays, so we’d be fully booked those days with no reservations for Saturdays. Slowly, we’ve been able to change that and now both days are popular.
Natural Birth In France?
I had my daughter Ima here. The pregnancy and birth were very medicalized compared to what I was used to back home and that was stressful. I wanted to do a natural birth preparation and had to really seek it out. But actively creating the birth plan made the experience more empowering.
I asked my doctor questions like, “Can I wait a few minutes to cut the umbilical cord (which is a World Health Organization recommendation)?” I got a lot of, “Oh no, we don’t do that.” When I googled it, I found many current policies dated from the 1970s. There’s a real parallel between food and medical culture in France: So advanced and yet sometimes so behind the times.
Being a mother and owning a business is tricky. It starts with maternity leave: The time frame is different from women who are salaried employees. You stop 15 days before the due date (versus six weeks) and after the baby is born, you get one month and then can apply for a two-week extension, twice. It’s a maximum of two months leave. I found the emotional language of the bureaucracy to be so contradictory: “We encourage you to take one month off after your baby is born to really bond with your baby.” It’s shit, man. It’s not long enough. I ended up taking the maximum two months allowed, but even that wasn’t long enough.
But France is really set up for a new mom to find a balance, which is great. It’s easier here. As a self-employed person, I think the hardest part is giving myself permission to work less. I’m so used to working 50 to 60 hours every week. I’m trying to cut down so I only work four days a week. I have a new head of the kitchen who I really trust, so I feel comfortable delegating control when I’m not here. I’ve also told my female employees that if they want to take extra time off or rearrange their schedules to spend time with their babies, do it! I don’t want my employees, male or female, to feel like they can only see their child for an hour every day.
When I’m with Ima, I try to be stern with myself about the phone. I turn it off or don’t look at it when I’m with her. I don’t want to waste the time I have with her by being emotionally somewhere else.
Parenting Style: Chill
Parents here seem more stressed. During pregnancy it’s, “Don’t do this, you can’t do that.” Once the baby is born, “Is the baby too hot? Too cold?” No, man, she’s chilling on her mat with a toy! There’s a tendency to fret here. It’s strange compared to how I was raised in New Zealand. My husband and I are pretty relaxed about parenting. We do what we feel. When my daughter is able to walk, she’ll go out in the grass with no shoes on. (Some of my French friends’ kids are never allowed to go outside barefoot). It’s okay if they get dirty. It’s normal.
My staff are my priority. Success trickles down from having a happy team. In the restaurant industry, we employ a lot of young people who don’t necessarily have formal qualifications. As an employer, I like to give a lot of responsibility to my team. I think they really respond to it. For example, the head of the kitchen has worked in bars for years and is a foodie but didn’t have kitchen experience. When I hired her a year ago as front-of-house staff, I told her we’d get her into the kitchen progressively. Now she’s the head of the kitchen. We want people who are on the same path. If everyone is really keen and moving forward, it’ll work out.
Mokxa has opened a new roastery in Strasbourg as part of a partnership. That could lead to supplying new cafes in Germany and Eastern Europe, which have a great coffee and cake culture. But I’m not focused on growth and expansion. I want to do what we’re doing really well. That may change. I may get an idea and want to run with it. But I want to try to put a lid on it for at least the next year to see how things go.
Come Hang Out
La Boîte à Café
3 rue Abbé Rozier
Mon – Fri: 7:30am – 7pm / Sat: 9a – 7pm / Sunday 10am – 7pm
Konditori Paul Bert
85 rue Paul Bert
Mon – Fri: 11:30am – 3pm / Sat – Sun: 11am – 5pm
9 rue des Capucins
Mon – Fri: 11:30am – 2:30pm