By Anna Lothson
Oak Park resident Hughes N'Cho-Allepot first landed an interior design job in New York City after moving from Paris, where he'd lived most of his life. He had every intention of returning home to open a restaurant.
Soon enough, however, he met his wife, got married and had children. His American roots got deeper. Not a fan of the Big Apple, N'Cho-Allepot packed up to Chicago to be closer to his wife's Midwest family.
And that's when he fell in love again.
"The whole energy of [Chicago] is very similar to Paris," the now six-year resident of Oak Park said. The city had its appeal, but in terms of raising a family and continuing his business, he knew Oak Park was the place. Now he's ready to bring a taste of Parisian life to the place he calls home.
Café Dampierre, he says, will be more than a cafe or restaurant, but a place for people to get to know each other. He said in Paris, people gather to meet in a café. In America it happens in bars, and it's this he wants changed.
"There is an atmosphere of community that we really can't find at a coffee shop [here] where it's all about come and go," N'Cho-Allepot said. "If things are moving too fast, you forget who you are. In cafe culture, you open yourself to others. You know your neighbor. There is voice and there is life."
Constant connection to tablets, smart phones and laptops, headphones instead of conversation and uninviting spaces that don't encourage interaction are trends he's hoping to reverse, even if only for a few minutes — or an hour — in a day.
"I want to reconnect. I want to share happiness. I want to feel happiness," he said. "I want people to feel relaxed. Life is just beauty and sometimes we forget that. We just have to live it and enjoy it. I want to connect human to human again."
N'Cho-Allepot sees this missing from traditional American cafes but thinks a model like his can thrive in the community. Marion Street Cheese Market, he said, is an example of a successful establishment that gave him the confidence his cafe could bring a fresh take to the cafe scene.
Café Dampierre, which he describes as an extension of a home, is not about "one man trying to create something; it's about everybody being part of something." He explained the classic-style French decor, mixed with a modern feel, will offer guests a chance to partake in the variety of breakfast, brunch and lunch items like croissants, sandwiches with homemade bread, mussels or classic French dishes like Sole Meunière, to name a few — all with craft beers and wine.
The unique menu should be a draw, but N'Cho-Allepot hopes the culture keeps people coming back.
"You see the world and the world sees you. … You open yourself up to communication. It's all about comfort, welcoming, softness, beauty and sophisticate," he said. "It's just about community. It takes more than one man to build a village and in our village, it's everybody."
N'Cho-Allepot has the renderings done and hopes to move into a place on or around The Avenue district or the Downtown Oak Park area. During the next six months, he'll be working on a kickstart campaign to get the community interested and to attract investors. Until then, he'll help spread his message, as stated in the cafe's slogan: "Eat, drink and be happy. Life is good."
To learn more about the cafe, check out the Facebook page.