With cheesy potato bake, French restaurant owner defies COVID rules

Pascal ROSSIGNOL
·2-min read

By Pascal ROSSIGNOL

LIGESCOURT, France (Reuters) - Since COVID-19 restrictions forced the closure of her bistro in northern France, Kathia Boucher has been working as a cleaner, and worrying about losing her business.

On Monday she decided enough was enough and, in defiance of the law, she re-opened her doors and served up a lunch of cheesy potato bake, green salad, and bottles of Leffe Belgian beer.

As customers ate inside, she received a visit from two police officers who took down names of diners, and warned her she was breaking the law. She will now wait to hear if she will be sent an official closure order.

"I sold my house to buy this business so yes, I invested everything," said Boucher, 50, as she stood outside her bistro, called La Boheme, a few miles from the border with Belgium.

"That is why I am opening here today, to save my job, and my business," she said. "They can deprive me of everything, but not my freedom to work."

The government of President Emmanuel Macron closed down restaurants and bars on Oct. 30 to contain a COVID-19 epidemic that has contributed to over 76,000 deaths.

The closures were felt keenly in France, the country that invented haute cuisine and where the leisurely weekday lunch lubricated by wine is a national tradition.

With virus rates rising again, Macron is contemplating a new lockdown, and restaurateurs like Boucher have become hero figures for French COVID-sceptics.

Boucher's lunch service on Monday was attended by right-wing populist politician Florian Philippot. He posted a video on Twitter of him talking to Boucher and said: "Macron should listen to this."

Alain Amorich was one of the customers tucking into Boucher's tartiflette, a classic French dish of cheese, potatoes and bacon. "Why do they close the restaurants and bars, and not the supermarkets?," he said.

"The people are bumping into each other to get the shopping carts, they're not even disinfected. What is that? It's nonsense."

(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Alison Williams)