Get a glimpse of what it’s like to start a new life in the UK through our Expat Diaries series. Swapping Paris for London was a radical move for Maxence Masurier, who doesn’t look back. Get to know more about the founder of French wine shops Made In Little France, and how he started his business here, bringing the best of liquid France to the UK. Cheers!
Tell us a bit about your life in France
Together with my dad, we ran a family restaurant for ten years (Le Royal Valois, near Palais Royal, Ed.) and we had a good opportunity to sell. I was 33 years old, tired of living in Paris and working in hospitality there… I was looking for a change of scene, in a more entrepreneur-friendly city.
What inspired you to ultimately move to London?
Sometimes in life you just have to seize an opportunity. It was either taking over a restaurant in Pigalle and going down the same route for another ten years, or getting things moving. It was then or never, so I just gave it a go.
London is so close to Paris and yet so different! The change in scenery is simply incredible. It’s a different world. I was hesitating between New York and London, but the latter won, mainly for practical reasons: the UK was part of Europe, and I could visit home with a two-hour train ride.
So I arrived in March 2014 with literally no contact, no proper plan, a broken English and a few-month-old baby girl… I decided to rent out a flat for six months to start with, see if things would work out. I didn’t really know the city. I had heard good things about Hackney, so I landed up near Victoria Park.
How were you eventually inspired to open your own wine shop?
My initial project was to open a restaurant, so I started working as a sommelier here and there to get a good picture of how things worked in London.
After one year, I was after a better work/life balance. I had good wine knowledge, so I moved on to work in retail. I liked working in a wine shop, but I was often disappointed by the wines available back then, in terms of diversity and precision.
That’s where my idea started to develop. There was no wine cellar dedicated exclusively to French wines, so I was going to open my own, with a careful selection of French bottles. On top of that, I really missed the magical feeling of walking into a French cave, like Mr. Katz’s Cave des Papilles in the 14th arrondissement of Paris.
How were you introduced to wine?
I trained as a sound engineer so nothing to do with wine, but it runs in my family. My grand-father Roger and my father Philippe are true wine enthusiasts: it’s a real passion of theirs, which they passed on to me. My dad is a collector. He owns absolutely incredible bottles in his cellar.
Tell us a bit about your approach to wine.
I’m very open to new, interesting, funky wines, but there must be technique and expertise behind them. Yes to a touch of originality, but with structure — it’s what I’m looking for in a wine. For instance, Philippe Richy (Domaine Stella Nova, Ed.) is one of the masters of natural wines in Languedoc. He carefully crafts them. His cuvées are round, they hold water and age well. His orange wine is state-of-the-art! But quality and high precision work do come at a certain price, so when people ask for a good orange wine under £15 or a châteauneuf-du-pape under £20, I’m sorry but it can’t be.
Tell us about the wine curation process you went through before the opening.
Once the idea budded in my brain, it was pretty simple, I just had to bring it to life. With my dad, we decided to take a year to taste our way through all the French wine regions. I would go back at least twice a month and we would travel around Alsace, Bordeaux, Languedoc, South of France, Rhône... to meet wine producers he had worked with.
We would spend fabulous meals in fabulous restaurants, discover new wines there and drive down the road to meet the producers… Our only rule: for us to select a wine, the both of us had to like it. Most of the time, we would just taste and look at each other: “OK? - OK.” Easy! It was an extraordinary experience. We met brilliant people — 40-50 winemakers selected in the end— I’m still working with today, like Pierre Gobillard in Champagne.
How did the location scouting and the opening go?
I was looking to settle near Angel. The dream would have been to open my shop near the amazing butcher Turner & George on St. John Street in Clerkenwell. I had planned on opening in 2016, but in June 2015, the perfect premises became available: the one next door!
I looked no further, it was the one. We did all the work with my dad, and after three months I was ready to open the doors in September, offering all the French wines I had imported. The first years, I worked every single day, ten hours a day.
Tell us a bit about your offering
In both our shops, we sell affordable, good everyday wine on tap from the Pays d’Oc. It’s a hit, especially in Stoke Newington. We pour two reds (pinot noir, malbec), two whites (chardonnay, sauvignon blanc), a cinsault rosé and a sharp sparkling chardonnay — all under a tenner. It’s a reminder of the ancestral habit of filling up your bottle at the caveau, but also a practical and eco-friendly gesture.
Craft beers, it’s another story. At first, I wanted to offer a range of French craft beers, but they make such good beers at such affordable prices in the UK that competition was really fierce, so I decided to widen my offering to include local brewers. When in Rome...
We’re sitting in your second, newly opened shop in Stoke Newington, how did that happen?
I obviously had this idea of having several shops at the back of my head from day one, but it took a bit of time to get our name out there, get things rolling and start paying back the loan. Only then could I start thinking about expanding.
I lived in Stoke Newington for a couple of years so I knew the area well. It’s a lovely community and a dynamic neighbourhood with many wine enthusiasts, so it was an easy call. Once again, I hadn't really planned on opening, but the premises came on the market so I went for it.
What do you love most about life in London?
People come from so many different backgrounds and cultures, it’s so enriching. I also love the village life and the quietness in such a large city. Sometimes you walk down a street and it feels like proper countryside.
What do you miss most about France?
Obviously I don’t miss French wine as I have 20,000 bottles at hand! I’m very attached to my country, its culture and traditions. I go back very often, and it feels like home every time. It’s not that I miss the summery, Mediterranean warm vibes of the South of France, but I’m always happy to go back to it.
What piece of advice would you give to someone considering opening a business in London?
You have to be brave and hard-working for sure. I find English people to be very open to business. They won’t do you any favours, but they’ll give you a chance as long as you make it work. That’s the London dream.
Made In Little France Stoke Newington
163 Stoke Newington Church St
London N16 0UL