Before Coco Chanel, French women of high society kept Angelina’s kitchen busy by hosting daily gatherings and frequent lavish events.
For years, Coco Chanel lived in Hôtel Ritz Paris that stretches handsomely around Place Vendôme in the 1st arrondissement – the heart of Parisian style and history, then and now. Everyday, she entered the glass doors of Angelina, properly dressed waiters would guide her to the same table, where she would submerse in a few hours of feminine charm that only a salon du thé on Rue Rivoli could replenish. Before Coco, French women of high society kept Angelina’s kitchen busy by hosting daily gatherings and frequent lavish events. After Coco, the likes of Audrey Hepburn and Serge Gainsbourg often made Angelina their kitchen away from home. Since the day its doors were unveiled, across the street from the Louvre, Angelina has never been just an ordinary tea room.
“Seven years ago, Angelina was a little bit sleepy,” Florence Heim, Director of Angelina, says, “Groupe Bertrand took on this place in 2005 and it’s been growing so fast ever since.”
The franchise that has now prospered into a formidable 8-store brand, was started by an Austrian confectioner, Antoine Rumpelmayer, who brought his family from Austria to Nice. Together, they created a high society café for women to meet, chat for a few hours, accompanied by dainty cups of tea and petite finger foods. Maison Rumpelmayer was immediately popular, such a salon du thé was rare at the time. Most of its clientele were aristocrats who lived in Paris but visited the French Riviera occasionally on vacation. Soon, the Rumpelmayer family decided to relocate to the City of Lights, growing a successful business in closer proximity with their customers.
The magnificent interior was designed by the famed architect, Edouard-Jean Niermans of the Belle Époque period. The walls are embellished with large paintings of various landscapes and subjects, each with a marked significance to the Rumpelmayer family. “Since 1903, we’ve kept this place exactly the same as it was before. Renovation is a big project here, but we make it a point to never change anything.” Florence explains, “For example, the biggest painting on the wall is the view of the French Riviera, because that’s where the first Angelina was, overlooking Baie de Villefranche (one of the deepest natural harbors in the Mediterranean Sea.)” The restaurant is also adorned with marble top tables illuminated by a majestic chandelier hanging from a grand, mirrored ceiling.
Since the start of the last century, like any person or establishment with age, Angelina has unmistakably experienced its share of changes. In fact, it wasn’t always called Angelina. “There were two sons who took care of the café in this location. One of the brothers decided to open his own café on Rue Saint-Honoré, but kept the name Rumpelmayer, so the brother who stayed at the original café here on Rue Rivoli needed to change the name and decided on: Angelina – the name of Antoine’s daughter-in-law.” According to Florence, until many years ago, in the spirit of locals and regulars, the café was still referred to as: Angelina, Maison Rumpelmayer.
Although one cannot prevent change neither in society nor in time, Angelina has attracted Parisians and international travelers due to its signature of keeping tradition. The Chocolat l’Africain has been a classic since the beginning. The recipe of an old-fashioned thick, richly hot chocolate paired with additional pots of whipped cream, has been intoxicating customers along with the infamous Mont Blanc gâteau, a cake made in perfection with light whipped cream and chestnut cream vermicelli. “We use our signature desserts, and the touch of our executive pastry chef (Chef Sébastien Bauer,) who somehow inserts the story of Angelina in each creation. For example, we created a cake that is from Austria because that’s the origin of Angelina.” Florence also indicates that pastry menu must evolve with season and time, sometimes putting a modern twist to a classic gives more options to both regulars and tourists. “Last year, we decided to create a new Mont Blanc, topped with a bit of chocolate and adding a piece of chocolate inside as well. So now we have two Mont Blancs, one for the traditionalists, and something else that’s new and exciting.” The same implementation was made with the hot chocolate recipe, one that conceived a contemporary chocolate frappé, specifically for hot European summers, catering to travelers, who come from a long way to experience the renowned hot chocolate, without suffering further heat.
Step by step, Florence has given Angelina an active communication that takes its global image to levels that weren’t previously explored. Partnerships with Swarovski crystals, or inviting fashion boutiques such as: Chanel, Dior and Chaumet, to lunch and dinner are all heightened executions that direct an opening of customers segmentation. For this reason, competitions like Ladurée may have more clients in their boutique sector, while Angelina remains to garner more in salon du thé and the restaurant department. Besides its prime and most historic location, new additions of the café can be seen in other parts of Paris. Galeries Lafayette, Porte Maillot, even within Château de Versailles, just to name a few.
The so-called modern twist is exactly what has awoken Angelina from its previous hushful sleep. Part of the success today is an unfolding from a hub of French aristocrats to a place where people from different levels of society, age group, cultural background, can come together. Angelina welcomes its guests to a world, or better yet, a society that no longer exists. Surrounded by the extravagant decor and its classic sweets, everyone is reminded of a period of luscious yet dissipated time. In midst of travelers speaking foreign languages AT the next table, for a brief moment or two, anyone inside Angelina can still imagine Coco Chanel, leaning somewhere against the wall, savoring each sip and bite, as we all do now.
Find out more about Angelina, Paris.