Expat Diaries: Juliette Bordais, Le Hamper

By Valentine Benoist

Le Hamper founder Juliette Bordais is in a long-term relationship with the UK, having lived in Cardiff, Bath and London! She now runs her gift hampers filled with French delicacies from her flat in Brockwell, South London, where we caught up with her.

Le Hamper Juliette Bordais

Tell us a bit about your upbringing in France

I come from Saumur in the Loire valley. Food and wine have always played an important role in my family. My grandfather was a pastry chef and ran a hotel restaurant, my mum cooks every day — I wouldn’t go back home from school at lunchtime as a child, no canteen for us! My dad is also a keen cook. On the weekend, he can spend a whole afternoon making elaborate dishes.

Tell us about your first visit to London

I’ve always been fascinated by England. The first time I came on a three-week linguistic trip when I was 14-15 years old, and stayed in a family. I have a vivid memory of going to Greenwich market and buying my first David Bowie album there.

What inspired you to move to the UK?

At uni, I read foreign languages on purpose so that I’d be sure to come back via an Erasmus exchange programme. Which is what happened, but I was sent to Wales in 2010. I ended up in Cardiff, staying three years instead of the initial ten months planned.

Was it hard at first? How did you make a community for yourself?

Arriving in Cardiff was an exciting experience and I came along with a friend. Honestly it was a year of partying, having a good time, making friends at uni... it was easy! It’s a lovely small town, people are warm and friendly there. When my exchange ended, I felt I wasn’t done so I decided to stay there for a masters in hospitality management first, then for a full-time job with management responsibilities at an Italian restaurant chain. That’s where I learnt the most essential skill: problem solving! I’ve been a pro at improvising ever since.

© ©Dan Atkins

How did your relation to hospitality evolve?

I left Cardiff in 2015 to travel the world, and then came back to square UK in 2015 — in Bath that time. Working as a supervisor in a just-opened French bistro, that’s where I was confronted with the real hospitality world. The team was great but the days were long, staff was scarce, you were constantly out-of-sync… On top of that, I wouldn't say it’s the best city for anyone in their twenties. That’s when I decided to move to London, where I had good friends already.

What I love about this job is that you have to be fast, always on your toes, plus you get to chat with everybody — I’m a people person so it’s my thing. But my last work experience in a London restaurant was quite bad, that’s when I had enough. I was tired of constantly missing out, working on weekends and so on… I guess you’re after something else when you’re closer to 30. I wanted to be on the other side, the one dining out! So I called it quits and took a project manager position at Sushi Gourmet, a French company developing sushi counters in retail. That way I got the best of both worlds — working in food with normal office hours!

Tell us a bit about Le Hamper, how were you inspired to create it?

I’ve always wanted something of my own. With my new project management role, I got to learn all the tricks so I could run my own project! It had to be around French food obviously, definitely not a restaurant nor a café. E-commerce was the perfect choice.It’s the future and I could run it as a side hustle. After some brainstorming, I saw an opportunity in creating French food gift hampers as I couldn’t find any online.

How did it come to life and how is it doing?

I paid a lot of attention to sourcing original products from small French partners — not only your saucisson and red wine clichés, even if I do offer some of these as well! Products have to be both delicious and good-looking, with colourful packaging. I source some of them directly in France myself like the Bee Prairie savoury biscuits, whilst others like wine and Le Chocolat des Francais, I get through their distributors in the UK.

After six months, I was ready to start rolling but it didn’t take off as much as I wanted. Nothing’s ever a problem, right?! So I started putting my gift hampers out there on marketplaces. Now about half of my orders come through them, and the other half straight from my website.

Did Covid have any impact on Le Hamper?

Sales went crazy during lockdown! I would receive as much as 150 orders per month — much more than usual ! Funnily enough, they were mainly care hampers, with lovely gift messages along the lines of ‘since we can’t go to France, here’s a little something’.

To give people a chance to pamper themselves too without bearing the cost of a hamper, I created an Essential bundle of French cheese and charcuterie and it picked up really well.

Bee Prairie 

Chocolat des Francais

Essential bundle

© ©Dan Atkins

What's the future looking like for Le Hamper?

Bright! Offering the products without the hamper during lockdown was the first step.I’m leaning towards more of an online deli format now. I’m slowly expanding the range of products — hopefully including more luxurious items like truffle-based goods soon. I also offer bespoke Christmas hampers and corporate gifting.You know where to find me!

What do you love most about running your own business?

Doing things at my own pace with a full-time job, how I see fit, and making my own decisions. The downside is that I didn’t expect it to be so hard to motivate myself sometimes.

What do you love most about life in London?

Six months into this Covid situation, I’m not so sure anymore! I miss all the fun — beers at the pub, attending gigs, tapping my foot in underground clubs to techno DJ sets.

What do you miss most about France?

My friends and family aside, I’d say a pain au chocolat from the bakery around the corner in the morning. And also this little je ne sais quoi when you walk about the streets of Montmartre in the summer. There’s something unique in the air!



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