Marseille: “Chez Roberte”, a neighborhood bistro fighting for its survival

A few years ago, we jostled around the tables of “Chez Roberte”, a small working-class restaurant on avenue Roger-Salengro (15th) hidden not far from the Bougainville metro station. Here, for twenty-three years, between entrecôte and fries and Friday aioli, the owner of the place has been delighting regulars with her generous home cooking, also attracted by the family atmosphere and the formula at a low entrance- dish-cheese-dessert and coffee at €14.50. Like at home. The owner of the place, Roberte Amendola, 67, has always been cooking, or almost. From the age of 18, she studied in collective catering, at EDF and the Régie des tabacs. “I have always cooked for othersshe smiles. My mother had a small bar-restaurant at La Viste; my brother was a chef de rang, he had even won the race for waiters in Paris and worked in the kitchens of ships. I think it’s in the genes!

In 1999, she bought the business of the bar-restaurant “Le Métro”, so named because the Bougainville station was initially to be dug opposite. “Me, at the base, I wanted to take a truck, but it was not in my pricesshe recalls. By buying here, I wanted to run a neighborhood bar where everyone knows each other, family.“Beginnings are difficult -“I cried in this bar“, sighs Roberte – but the customers of the surrounding companies are gradually getting used to it. Bosses, workers, entire teams from the SNCF or the Revel lifting company push the door of the “Metro” every day. 40 or 50 covers every lunchtime: some days, the small dining room is overflowing, people crowd around the fridge of raw vegetables and homemade eggs and mayo.

“If it continues like this, we close”

And then the Covid hit “Le Métro”, like all the other French businesses. Of course, the State paid compensation which made it possible to pay the rent and the utilities. But it is a second upheaval that will severely destabilize the establishment. The tram extension site erects its barriers, moves companies that have been in place for decades, and transforms the district into a no man’s land. Several danger orders struck the neighboring buildings at the same time and ended up isolating the bistro, in front of which few pedestrians venture…”It’s simple, we lost all our customerssums up Jenna, Roberte’s daughter, who has been providing the service every day for twelve years. The neighborhood has emptied, there is nothing left. Some days, there are only five customers, once only one! It is not tenable.

Pierre Laurenzi, technical supplier at Haribo, a near neighbour, is one of the regular customers who still runs the shop. “I come everydayproudly assures this regular. It’s family, we are well received, everything is very good. We even became friends with Roberte and her daughter. I have my table there, that of the bosses, even if I am the only worker there!

Despite this loyal clientele, the establishment suffers, between water cuts, incessant work and the ballet of construction machinery in front of the door. “If it continues like this, we closeslices Roberte with emotion. I can’t even afford an apartment anymore, I live in a small room above the restaurant.

His daughter Jenna, however, would see herself taking over the business. She also took a liking to the profession of restaurateur, in contact with customers: “But I see my mother struggling since I was very little, so it makes you think. We’ll see…

Both are still hoping for rapid progress on the construction sites around them, a passable sidewalk, new business facilities and, who knows, a return of customers who are still working in the area.

In a district which in turn suffered the violent shock of urban redevelopment – we remember that of rue de la République and its collateral damage – “Le Métro” tries to survive with courage. “Because I’m here almost apologizes Roberte. Here is my life.”

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