In March, Stephanie Onisforou and business partner Joffrey Van Asten, previously of the French café Douce France, opened Café de la Fontaine on the site of former Andersen’s Ice Cream store.
Two weeks later, the COVID-19 lockdown hit. However, the cafe didn’t miss a day, firmly establishing itself as a local favourite.
Café de la Fontaine is already winning awards. I caught up with the nineteen-year-old business owner and Potts Point local to find out just how their French café came about.
Stephanie, congratulations on the success of Café de la Fontaine! How did the partnership with Joffrey happen?
My father, Theo Onisforou, bought the property that Andersen’s used to occupy. Joffrey’s former business was a few doors down. I’m an architecture student and I was commissioned to design the store. Then Joffrey and I teamed up to form a business partnership to run the business.
Tell me about the gorgeous space you’ve created?
Our goal for the interior design was to be as authentic as possible. I wanted to create a sense of escapism. When people walk into Café de la Fontaine, it’s a
s if they’re escaping through a magic portal and they’ve been transported to a traditional little café in Paris. I chose French antique doors, mirrors, tables and chairs. We have a collection of French flags including one from World War 1 and the glittering Eiffel Tower, which is as close as you’re going to get to Paris at the moment. Nearly all of our staff are French and their delicious delicacies, such as beautiful eclairs, savoury galettes, sweet crepes, croissants, French desserts and baguettes, make us a truly authentic café and patisserie.
I must say your croissants are tres magnifique!
We have a full pastry kitchen upstairs. Our three French pastry chefs are trained in the traditional French method and have worked in five-star hotels across Europe. One of our chefs worked with Paul Bocuse, one of the 20th century’s most influential French chefs. Downstairs in the cafe, our chefs are also cooking crepes and galettes. They’re all from Brittany, where crepes originated.
How did you manage to start a business, at the same time as studying?
We started the planning phase last year, and the great thing about university is we get long breaks. However, when the pandemic hit, I was taking my classes online, so I could dedicate myself more fully to the business. I’m often at the café working on my assignments between taking orders. It’s been amazing to see something that Joffrey and I envisioned become a reality. When I walk to work early in the morning, I can smell the fresh croissants being baked as I walk in the door. I love watching how much joy our café has brought to the area.
How did you cope when the cafe opened on 19 March, just weeks before the lockdown happened?
We offered a takeaway service. Even though we were taking orders through the acrylic divider, there was a very human-to-human connection during the pandemic and strong bonds were formed. That kind of connection was crucial during the toughest part of the lockdown. It taught me a lot about the importance of communication and what an incredible community we have in Potts Point. When times are tough, people stick together.
The hard work has obviously paid off. Café de la Fontaine recently won ‘Most Popular Eatery’ in Potts Point. The award was voted by the community, so you must be delighted.
It was incredibly rewarding, as there are so many amazing places to eat in the area. I have lived in the area since I was 10 years old, so I grew up eating in restaurants and cafes around the area. Now the owners of those places come to our café.
What do you enjoy most about Potts Point?
It feels so cosmopolitan. It’s like being in New York or Paris. You can leave home and everything is on your doorstep – the best restaurants, boutiques, nail parlours, hairdressers and medical centres. We have everything to sustain a really enjoyable lifestyle and I can’t see myself living anywhere else. I love living amongst such a diverse multicultural community. I was surprised by the number of people that can speak French in our community. People are always popping in for a little chat in French!
Running a French café surrounded by so many treats, can you pick a favourite?
Everything is tempting, so it’s hard to choose. But if I have to, I’d say the eclairs! My favourite is either like the lemon meringue, or the classic vanilla eclair. They’re seriously addictive!
You’ve made my mouth water, I think I’ll have both right now! Visit Cafe de la Fontaine at 1a Darlinghurst Road, Potts Point. It’s currently open 7 days from 7am to 5:30pm.
Photo credit: Café de la Fontaine Facebook page