Photo: Hôtel Jules Blog.
Anyone interested by sweets in Paris has to check out A la Mère de Famille. Dominating a corner across from the Peletier metro, this incredible-looking boutique was born in 1761. But it is more than the oldest candy shop in town. A la Mère offers the riches of four separate disciplines: those of the chocolatier, pâtissier, confiseur (confectioner) and glacier (ice-cream maker). The boutique sells more than 1,200 products, with candies from every French era and region. In addition to the best marrons glacés in Paris, even the pickiest gastronomes rave about its ice creams.
From the street, its draw is the fabulous green and gold facade. Although this guarantees a glamorous photograph, stepping inside brings the romance of time travel. In smells and sounds as well as sights, you are back in the Paris of 1895. That’s when entrepreneur Georges Lecoeur got his hands on the business, a destination spot of the Belle Epoque. Famous as the place to buy a petit beurre—the first cookie ever mass-produced in France—A la Mère served every sort of Parisian. The lavish period signage added by Lecoeur remains today, as a French historical landmark.
Photo: Cynthia Rose.
Here, for more than two and a half centuries, locals have been coming to rediscover their childhoods. They can unearth vintage Parisian pleasures from simple roudoudous (bright hard candies) through regional treats like négus de Nevers, bêtises de Cambrai or folies d’ecureuil. Whether it is jam, honey, cookie, candied fruit, wafer or nut, every conceivable kind of sweet is here.
Plus, it is still very much a family business. The shop and its eight Paris subsidiaries are owned and operated by les Dolfi. Siblings Sophie, Steve and Jane joined their father, Etienne, when he bought the business in 2000. Although he opened branches throughout the capital, Dolfi père has never tried to re-create his venerable mother ship. “We have the real old thing,” says Steve. “Why insult our customers with fake antiquity?”
But the family does believe in perfect service. Says Jane Dolfi, “We run a traditional business. Even if they are only spending 30 centimes, we want every customer to feel at home.” She succeeds; this is one of the most comfortable shops in town.
Locals also like the fact that it offers delicious bargains. A la Mère’s award-winning marrons glacés, for instance, are among the most affordable in Paris. The delicious ice creams are another bargain. However, chocolates remain the most popular item, clocking up over 70 percent of the sales. This is due to the maison‘s resident guru, 24-year-old Julien Merceron. In 2009, he became Champion Young Chocolatier of the Year. Every day, Merceron’s creations help bring in over 200 visitors.
Photo: Cynthia Rose.
So even if you want just a bonbon and a photo, you will have a great time gawking, sniffing and snapping. There are other vintage candy shops (such as A l’Etoile d’Or in the 9th or Le Bonbon au Palais on rue Monge). But for sweets in Paris, this is a living museum—and rarely has history looked or tasted better.
French Vintage Sweets to Try
1. Palets de Montmartre
2. Négus de Nevers
3. Brochettes de Guimauve
4. Bêtises de Cambrai
5. Folies d’ecureuil: chocolate-covered hazelnuts and almonds
A la Mère de Famille
A l’Etoile d’Or
Le Bonbon au Palais
Editor’s note: Have you checked out our celebrity trips of Paris? Wouldn’t it be fun to walk around in Jackie Kennedy’s shoes and hit her old stomping grounds in Paris, or perhaps to visit Audrey Hepburn’s movie sites? The trips are available as pdfs or as apps for your iPhone or Android phone.