French Native - Milwaukee Restaurant Owner - Reflects on Paris Tragedy

Nov 16, 2015

Milwaukee restaurateur Jacques Chaumet knows one of the Paris neighborhoods well, where terrorists struck on Friday night. 

Chaumet moved from France to the U.S. in 1993 and owns Chez Jacques in the Walker's Point neighborhood. He says he hadn't really had time to digest the tragedy that befell Paris, when he suddenly found himself surrounded by people who wanted to reach out.

“Like yesterday I didn’t know why we were so busy and then I realized that people wanted to be here. I think we are all in it together, so it feels very good that people who are thousands of miles from France are touched and care and are trying to help us to face what happened,” Chaumet says.

Chaumet was born in the south of France and over the years has spent plenty of time in Paris.

“I had friends living there, so I’d visit there for a day or two or three. I worked there for a while to so I’m quite familiar with the city and the different districts,” he says.

The restaurant Chaumet started in Milwaukee is marking its 15th year, yet he has continued returning to France.

“I used to go to Paris every six months to a year because I good friend of mine had a restaurant there, a couple of blocks from what happened in the 10th District, right next to the Place de la Republique,” he says.

Chaumet believes last week’s attackers strategically selected the neighborhood.

Eiffel Tower incorporated in traditional peace sign posted on the windows of the Alliance Française de Milwaukee.
Credit S Bence

  “It’s very vibrant, lot of bars and restaurants, theaters and libraries. And also a lot of young people from Paris go there because things are happening and prices are reasonable. So all of the bars and restaurants got hit was full of 18 to 25 year old kids enjoying life, talking with their friends. A regular Friday night party in Paris and obviously that’s why the terrorists picked that neighborhood because of what it represents for Parisians. It’s pretty much the only true Parisian neighborhood left in the city,” he says.

Chaumet will be making phone calls to friends and family today. He needs to hear his mother’s voice. Although she’s hundreds of kilometers south of Paris, Chaumet wants to know she feels safe.

“I heard on the radio this morning, Paris is never going to be the same. Of course it just happened, so today tomorrow, Tuesday it’s not going to be the same, but hopefully in 2016 and on things will go back to normal,” he says.

Chaumet says the French are a resilient people. “Especially the young community, I think they’re going to fight against that because it’s our freedom – our ‘liberte, fraternite, egalite’ and think young people are going to fight really hard to remain like that,” he says.

The restaurateur looks fatigued. Days of long distance worry, while running a business appears to be taking a toll. He seems to be thinking aloud when he shares another nagging concern.

The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Milwaukee is awash with French color. "I think that's a special message for the French people, " Jacques Chaumet says.
Credit S Bence

Paris is a cosmopolitan city – a blending of cultures and religions, yet Chaumet worries “The good Muslim people, the good Arab people, which most of them are. The Muslim people in France and all over the world are being affected, because everybody is pointing the finger at them. It’s going to affect the relationship between Christians, Muslims, blacks and whites and everything else in between,” he says.

Chaumet prays Parisians don’t allow terrorists to dictate how they live their lives. He believes everybody’s future depends on it.