Le Vieux Chien Noir
(The Old Black Dog) in Evran
Caroline Carver gives an account of how a Jersey Couple have adapted to running an
English/French Pub and Restaurant in Evran, Brittany.
_______Contact Le Vieux Chien Noir +33 02 96 27 44 58___________
We are from Jersey and have been coming to Dinan for over 10 years and about 10 times a year. We love the area and the people and just decided that we wanted to stay!
We made an appointment to see a local estate agent on one visit, just a cursory view with no definite plans, until we saw this building! It was the only place we viewed! It was an epicerie, patisserie, depot de pain and café/bar. Very 1960’s in décor and a bit dark. We knew it would be a challenge to turn it into a restaurant (and costly!). We signed on the dotted line and returned to Jersey to put our house on the market.
About two weeks later, my Father, who lives with us, called me to the television one Sunday evening. There was a programme on, and it was based in Dinan. He recognised some place names. I sat down to watch. It was a programme about a family from Chesterfield who had been given a month by the BBC to decide if they liked life here and wanted to move. They went into the Estate Agent’s we were using, Then the next view is the entrance to the building we’d just made the offer on! I said “Dad, you know you have seen photo’s of the place we are buying” “yes” was his reply. “well, you are looking at it now!”. Luckily for us, the family turned it down as they thought they would have trouble getting their furniture upstairs and there was no garden. We had to move the stairs anyway as they were in the kitchen, so they are wider and by the time we put the offer in, there was also a garden available about 2 minutes walk away, on the banks of the canal. It’s a walled “secret garden” and my bit of heaven. Lovely and peaceful for a spot of relaxing (time permitting!) and reading.
We wanted a change of pace and life and certainly got that! We hired English builders recommended by the Estate Agents as our French wasn’t too hot then. Big error as they were real cowboys. Part of the Bodgit and Scarper International Group! The renovations were to take 6-8 weeks and took 4 months. The two partners in the company parted ways a few weeks into the job….............the problems were endless. We learned by our mistakes the hard way and try our best to point people in the right direction if we speak to anyone looking to move here.
Our jobs are very rewarding. Although we do work longer hours now but it’s to our advantage. There is nothing better than knowing someone has been well fed, has enjoyed their meal and vowed to return! We have met plenty of lovely people and some extraordinary characters, both British and French! We have made many friends including quite a few good French friends (most of whom speak English!!
It really is a huge learning curve to live and work in a foreign county. My French is passable (I did 2 courses at night school in Jersey and had about 30 hours of one to one lessons) but Andrew struggles. A French friend gives him an hour lesson once a week. It really is a different culture here and the French do things very differently to the Brits.
We were racking our brains for a name for the restaurant and had asked our pals to think hard too. One came back to us to say he’s had a dream about us calling our place “The Old Black Dog”. We thought this was great and just translated it. We are often asked if there is a Bouley Bay connection. The real reason is that we had the most wonderful black Labrador Retriever called Theakston. He was a real character and a St Catherine’s boy. He contracted cancer in his nose at age 9 and the wonderful vets at new Era had to cut off his nose. So he had a peculiar look about him but they saved his life. We were often asked what race he was (my reply was “A no nosed Labrador Retriever”). He came to France with us and found his niche as the Maitre D, welcoming all the guests. He would meet and greet with a fluffy toy in his mouth, then lie on the floor in my way! He was a bit of a curiosity to the local vet as this sort of cancer is very rare in dogs. We are now very good friends with him and his English is really improving – so we can recommend a good vet if your need your pet passport stamped! Unfortunately, we lost Theakston in 2007 and are still asked about him all the time. He’s truly missed.
Being animal lovers, we have a collecting tin on the bar for the local equivalent of the Animal Shelter (SPA). Each time we fill it, we get a letter telling us how much was in it. One time, the accountant decided to mail the letter but couldn’t locate us in the phone book. The Brits tend to refer to us as “The Black Dog” and as many of the local Brits support the SPA, the SPA thought that was the name of the company. She ended up hand delivering the letter and realized as soon as she saw the name above the restaurant, that it was meant for us!
Having visited the area many times in the past, we knew what a problem it was to find a restaurant open on a Monday so we were adamant that we would not close that day. Instead, our closing day is Wednesday but we open Wednesday evenings in July and August.
Our food is a real mix. Andrew is famous for his Moules. The French tell him that they are the best they have tasted, which is a great compliment as they are real experts on Moules. We do steaks the English way (served with tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, peas and, of course, chips), the battered cod is really popular. Andrew makes the batter using one of our beers on tap (Beamish). There are also tex mex, fish and vegetarian dishes on the menu and each day there are specials. We also offer seafood platters and full English Breakfasts with pre-warming and do a Sunday roast, if ordered. The first people to reserve for the Sunday roast have the choice of the meat for that day.
All of our dishes are available to take away. An English friend rang up to order fish and chips to take away, so Andrew wrapped them in greaseproof paper, then newspaper. Our friend reported back that she’d sat in front of the TV, with the newspaper on her lap and thoroughly enjoyed her meal!!
During the week, at lunchtime, we have a set menu at a very reasonable price. Weekend lunchtimes and all evenings, we offer an à la carte menu.
In our bar, we have Beamish Red (an Irish beer), Strongbow Cider and Kronenbourg lager on tap, many bottled beers and lots of English spirits not always found locally.
We do speciality nights, such as Chinese, Indian, Greek, Mexican. A hot buffet one night a week in the Winter and we have a local dart team who play one night a week, again in the Winter.
We have two rooms available to rent. A King Size room en suite and a Twin bedded room with the bathroom opposite (for use only by this room). We are ideally located half way between St Malo and Rennes and have a bus stop right outside, for trips to Rennes or Dinan and Dinard.
Andrew and I feel that we have integrated well into the local community. We hold charity events to support local groups and children, such as afternoon teas, with English style cakes – very popular with the French ladies- quiz nights and bingo in both languages. We also sponsor the local football teams. We have three in our small village of about 1,500 residents.