As much as my wife and I have loved living in Savannah, we are determined to make one more move, a grande bon voyage to a little town in Provence, preferably before our Golden Years are upon us.
In the meantime, we will walk to the end of our own Ardsley Park street to sit and sip at Café Taureau and make believe.
Opened in mid-October in the former home of The Culturist Union, Parisian character permeates this beautiful bistro, immaculately conceived and renovated by husband-and-wife owners Anissa Manzo and Russ Goeken.
The café’s name - French for ‘bull’ - intentionally and cleverly announces its location on the city’s main north-south thoroughfare, and the clear objective of the mère-and-père proprietors is an eatery that serves its neighborhood. The logo, designed by Manzo, is a bull’s head crowned by a coffee cup and croissants in place of its horns. Comprenez-vous?
“We wanted to make sure that this was, first and foremost, a neighborhood café, Ardsley-focused but French-inspired,” Goeken explained, a spot for slowing down to enjoy a cappuccino and a pastry or glass of wine and charcuterie board.
“We’ve been open seven days, and already, we have our regulars,” he said of loyal patrons who come in a few times a day: a cup of coffee over morning work and then a light bite with friends come afternoon.
“We have seen that support specifically from this market and from all demographics, really.”
“What I keep coming back to is that we are café-driven,” said Goeken. “We are the neighborhood café, and already, in a week, it has been the neighborhood that is driving the whole project.”
BACK IN THE BISTRO BUSINESS
Café Taureau’s origin story dates back twenty years to when New York City native Manzo opened Café Mucha on Broughton Street, which she ran for four years, doing all of her own in-house baking.
“The café bug has always been with us,” Goeken said, “that shared passion for the café lifestyle. We’re both Francophiles. We love French cuisine and culture and quality of life.”
“I’m not French. I’m not a chef. We are ‘French-inspired’,” he clarified. “We’re not calling ourselves a French restaurant because that comes with a lot of expectations and challenges.”
By design, the menu and the ambience overtly “lean into the traditions of a true French café” without feeling obligated to be one “to a tee.”
Par exemple, the couple went into this venture knowing that they were not going to be baking their own breads in-house. For Manzo, been there, baked that, and to boot, the litre-sized kitchen is not fit for such extensive operations.
Instead, they were happy to let the city’s scratch bakers handle the three a.m. shifts and then “gladly retail their offerings.” The same goes for the desserts and pastries, which largely are Vie de France products and are “proofed, baked, and finished off in-house.”
The concept is assemblage: taking ingredients from the baker and the farmer whereupon the Café Taureau staff ‘assemblages’ them into the final dishes.
Chef Noah Whritenour and his Stevedore Bakery brigade are providing the baguettes and crusty rustic boules, the former for the sandwiches and the latter sliced up for the tartines, which Goeken called “our speciality.” Their takes on this open sandwich offer some savory, some sweet, and some veggie, and a handful of flavor combinations will rotate seasonally.
In the first week, the staff made hundreds of pear and prosciutto tartines: the bread is topped with a thick coat of chèvre that is then layered with thin slices of the two starring Ps, all of which is dressed in a honey balsamic drizzle.
Also served with a vibrant side salad, the jambon beurre ups the ante of France’s iconic working class sandwich with prosciutto crudo, even if its cotto cousin or Jambon de Paris would be more substantial and comme il faut to pair better with the butter.
“Of course, our quiche du jours have been selling really well,” Goeken added, which in that first week featured spinach, mushroom, and tomato with goat cheese and a classic ham and cheddar.
He said that he wanted his crew to “have some fun with the seasonal selections” while they “try to hit that elevated casual market but also the grab-and-go” diner.
Without scratch-baking everything, Café Taureau aims to give its clientele the experience and the quality, though Manzo has her eye on adding a couple of her own recipes.
All in good time.
FEELS LIKE FRANCE
Goeken shared that some of the early feedback, both online and in person, has been that the café feels like it has been around far longer than just a week.
“As an owner-operator, that’s one of the best things to hear,” he said. “The systems are working.”
He lauded an “excellent staff” of six that “are the professionals” running the kitchen, an open one by design so that visitors feel very much a part of the overall experience, as it is in France with no hard definitions between the spaces.
Light wood bistro chairs double up at marble-topped iron pedestal tables. A banquette in grooved gold upholstery tucks into a long wall. Vintage white penny tiles cover the floor topped by the occasional distressed area rug. The storefront windows along Bull further brighten the mostly white interior, accented by warm slate blue woodwork including a floor-to-ceiling wall of wares.
“The market wall component was the brainchild of my wife,” Goeken said of the pique-niquer offerings that will be made “more robust” once the beer and wine license is in hand. “Tying in the retail was always a vision so that we could have a kitchen market but also a gourmet grab-and-go market.”
He credited his wife with the design and aesthetic while he was a one-man G.C. plus all of the trades in the total teardown and build-out. The space was stripped to its concrete floors before he schemed the new plumbing and electrics to figure out how all the systems would work together.
“I wanted to know that it was done the way it needed to be done,” he said, and what would surely have taken far longer to renovate cost much less and was custom-fit.
“We brought everything forward, the kitchen, the point-of-sale, the espresso machine,” Goeken said. “We wanted it to be: when you walk in the door, you’re there.”
Before welcoming in customers, plenty of live training “allowed [the staff] a lot of time to refine the process before we went soft-open.”
Goeken and Manzo are planning on a grande opening in late November in concert with the procurement of the café’s beer and wine license, which will include a package wine proviso so that patrons can buy bottles off the shelf.
For those who stay to dine and drink, there is seating inside for more than forty plus another four bistro two tops out front and a large back patio, shaded with sailcloth, for at least thirty more. Already in effect, the plan is to host evening events, movie screenings, and live music, “offering the space up to other creative pursuits in town,” one of which is a French-themed murder mystery directed by Two Penny Tales.
Even before the bière and vin flow forth, hours of operation will extend, most likely until seven p.m. with the flexibility to stay open even later on weekends when events dictate it.
CAFÉ KISMET, TWO DOORS DOWN
The couple’s thematic café threads go back to their meeting at Gallery Espresso, another Bull Street coffeehouse, before they followed separate global career paths and then somehow magically reconnected “somewhere over the Pacific.”
After eloping, Goeken and Manzo moved back to Savannah in August of 2010, their “second time around” in a city where they had made friends and built business connections since both arrived to attend SCAD.
For their blessing ceremony on 10/10/10, Manzo furnished all of the flower arrangements, which was essentially her now well-known business’s first event. That month saw the full blossoming of Urban Poppy, predominantly as a wedding floral studio, in the now home of Sobramessa.
In 2015, Manzo introduced the retail component to that location, and three years later, she and Geoken were approached by Richard Kessler, who wanted Urban Poppy to be a ground-floor tenant at Plant Riverside.
Literally two doors down from Café Taureau is Urban Poppy’s production facility and company HQ, based there when the entire building was spruced up three years ago, though not initially with a retail element so that the downtown market could be the focus.
Six months back, Goeken reimagined and built out the Bull Street space to have a small retail presence.
“It’s definitely a symbiotic relationship between the two,” he said of having two shops on the same block.
A week into being open for business and busyness, Goeken reflected on Café Taureau’s identity.
“Yes, we serve coffee, but we’re not really coffee-focused. Yes, we serve pastry and foods, but we’re really not a pastry house. Yes, we serve delicious sandwiches, but we’re not really a French restaurant.”
In his first food-and-beverage foray, Goeken, who happens to be a Taurus, is helming the jour-to-jour operations at Café Taureau for now, though he hopes to hand over that role once the enterprise is established.
Then again, as it stands, he and his wife can just trade visits back and forth throughout the day between their café and their botanical boutique.
That sounds like a great work-life balance for this affaire de famille - almost as ideal as living in France.
Café Taureau (3129 Bull Street) is open Monday through Saturday (7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.) with expanded hours forthcoming.