JUST LIKE MARIE ANTOINETTE
I’m sipping a double espresso from a gold-rimmed cup at the new Ladurée in Downtown Beirut, pausing only to pop a bright pink macaron in my mouth. A Belle and Sebastian song is playing; before that it was the Arctic Monkeys. “La Duree is like being Marie Antoinette in the Sofia Coppola movie,” says David Holder, the President of Ladurée, sitting next to me, dressed impeccably in a grey suit (no tie), and with long hair and chunky silver rings adorning his fingers. “It’s 150 years of tradition, but at the same time it has to be a little bit rock n’ roll.”
The Coppola reference is more than apt. In fact, the American director approached Holder before making the film, in which Kirsten Dunst played the eponymous French Queen, and asked him to prepare all the pastries for the film. And what better name than the institution that is perhaps singlehandedly responsible for the popularity of the macaron in the world today, Ladurée?
Today Holder is in Beirut on the occasion of the brand’s opening in Downtown Beirut, in a lovely villa located across the street from Elie Saab. Finding the right location is, and always has been the biggest challenge. “It was a nightmare,” says Carine Chebli-Desplats, his Lebanese business partner. When looking for the right spot “I wanted something really different, really exceptional, and I wanted to have a garden…. It’s quite impossible.”
But eventually, their luck turned, and the perfect location opened up: the building, though new, has a classic Lebanese charm — high ceilings with Ottoman-style windows.
Holder is no stranger to Beirut. He’s been coming here since the end of Lebanon’s civil war. At the time, his family already owned the Paul chain of bakeries, and Holder came to study the market. He says he was touched by seeing the impact of war on the city’s capital. “I’m very attached to Lebanese people. I think it’s a fantastic country…. They have good vibes, which you feel when you arrive.”
A devotee of meditation and a healthy vegetarian lifestyle, David Holder hopes the new cafe will promote good vibes and positive energy in Downtown Beirut. “When you enter this place you say ‘wow.’ You feel vibes.”