In the shadow of Notre Dame de la Garde, in Marseille’s Vauban neighborhood, is a tiny pizza bar – La Bonne Mère – that serves what is arguably the best pizza in the city. Three words sum up the team of Jérémy and Mahéva: Quality, Passion, Welcome. After a delightful – and delicious – evening, we went back to talk with Mahéva:
MFT: Tell me a little bit about yourself and Jérémy; I read on your website that you’ve been together since you were 14 years old.
We grew up in the same neighborhood and have been friends since childhood. We’ve been together since 2009, and share a common passion – cuisine – and a love of travel.
MFT: You opened LBM in January 2015. What did you do before that?
I’ve worked in the restaurant sector – as a waitress and as a seasonal employee – for the past 20 years. This is our first restaurant.
MFT: And is Jérémy’s background in pizza?
No, he’s self-taught. He likes the contact with the dough, and after all, he’s from Naples. Pizza is in his blood!
MFT: How did you get started with this, your first restaurant?
We had a very small amount of savings. We didn’t have enough money to buy the bar, but the landlord agreed to rent it to us for 1-1/2-2 years and give us a chance. No one wanted this place, because it was in bad shape. The two of us rolled up our sleeves and did what we could to make it presentable so that we could open. The first clients were from this neighborhood – Vauban. Last night they came back to celebrate their child’s birthday and in fact, we have many clients who come back. In the beginning it brought tears to my eyes, to see these families coming to our restaurant. They appreciate our pizza.
We didn’t do any publicity. We just have word of mouth. First people from Vauban, and then Parisians. We started to get written up in guides. First, in Le Fooding in February. As a result we had a lot of Parisians. In fact, it was the parents, who heard of us in Paris, who told their children who lived in Marseille about La Bonne Mère.
We had a wonderful review by François-Régis Gaudry, the food critic for l’Express, and many people came as a result of that. We have an international clientele – Americans who follow him came here. Also, people from Belgium, Spain, Singapore, California. It’s a real pleasure.
I feel that it’s an honor for us that clients come to sample our pizzas. Without clients, we wouldn’t be here. Whether it’s me or our wait staff, the client comes first.
When we started, we didn’t have much money, and we focused on quality. Our mozzerella comes from one of the best producers, the flour is organic, our Parma ham is organic, some of our cheese is from Italy. I can’t even tell you how much it costs us to produce a pizza, we are so obsessed by quality.
MFT: Why did you decide to open a Pizza Bar?
We were just two people. Although I like to cook, I didn’t feel that I could be responsible for a restaurant kitchen. I love to welcome people, and Jérémy had this passion for dough – at home, he’ll make gnocchis with basil pesto for example.
MFT: Your tomato sauce is sensational….
It’s done as naturally as possible. There are two ways of harvesting tomatoes. One, when they’re still green, and they ripen in the truck. The other, ripened in the sun, and then there is no need to add anything. Jérémy works with two different tomato sauces made from these ripe tomatoes. The same brand but different consistencies. He adds only organic olive oil, a little salt and a bouquet of basil, he lets the sauce marinate, and the tomato exudes all of its flavor. No condiments. No oregano, no onion, no sugar, no garlic to overwhelm the tomato.
MFT: What do you find most pleasant in your métier?
The contact with the public. Discovering “the other.” The table means sharing. People wind up becoming our friends. I’m friendly but pizza is a popular dish. If you don’t like people you can’t be friendly with them. Whatever it is – making pizza, serving people, washing glasses – we try to put our heart into what we’re doing. I cannot do something that I don’t really enjoy.
MFT: What are the challenges in owning a restaurant?
There is a lot of paperwork. There’s a lot of work managing purchasing, (I have two Italian suppliers), I run around a lot, but I’m hyperactive by nature. And of course, paying bills, everything that’s administrative.
MFT: Our last question, for all the people we interview: what is your favorite restaurant, and is there a place or a walk that you particularly like?
There’s an Italian restaurant in Cassis – La Gossia del Oil – that we love. It’s not touristy and the food is great. Italian restaurant. In Marseille,
Marseille: La Boite à Sardines (nr Réformés); La Relève (Saint Victor)
A favorite walk is to go from Marseille to Cassis on foot, via the Sugiton calanque, starting at the university center Luminy. It’s a phenomenal post card. We return to Marseille by bus.
La bonne Mère
16 rue Fort du Sanctuaire, 13006 Marseille
T: 04 91 58 22 05