A COUPLE who met in Paris and got back together decades later are now running a successful café in a Bradford village.

Christophe and Hedia Merlin met while he worked in a brasserie and she as a nanny. They reconnected years later through social media and opened a café, Christophes, in Thornton, our Telegraph & Argus Trader of the Week.

A popular place for friends to meet, the cafe has now been open for more than ten years.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Another look insideAnother look inside

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Hedia and Christophe met in ParisHedia and Christophe met in Paris

“Café culture is part of living in Paris, people hang out in cafes like we do in pubs,” says Hedia. “We could never have imagined that we would be together today, let alone in Thornton and owning a café. The café is a good reflection of us - a mixture of British and French.”

After 25 years working in restaurants Christophe was keen to open his own café.

“I had been considering opening my own place for a while - a big driver was, after so many years in restaurants, working unsociable hours, I really wanted to be home on an evening and on Sundays for my family,” he says.

The couple looked at several places in Bradford, Leeds and Halifax and then heard that a transport café in Thornton was for sale.

“It was perfect, we live in Thornton so that was a bonus. It was a manageable size with 16 covers and the kitchen was already partially equipped.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The food draws on French and British influencesThe food draws on French and British influences

The premises had operated as a café since the 1950s and Christophe and his Hedia were thrilled to learn that Hedia’s mum used to go there as a girl.

Christophe had a clear vision of what he wanted. “As a family, whenever we wanted to go somewhere nice for breakfast or lunch we would go to Saltaire, Leeds or Ilkley and we would bump into people from Thornton - this is why we believed there was a market for somewhere with homemade food and good coffee: at that time in the village, there were mostly pubs and takeaways."

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Christophe doing what he lovesChristophe doing what he loves

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: There's tasty fare on the menuThere's tasty fare on the menu

He adds: “We didn’t have much money to decorate when we first opened: Hedia enjoys design, so a lick of paint, some French-inspired prints, the installation of a banquette seat and a few scatter cushions made a big difference.

"We have improved it over the years, when the budget allowed. The best thing we did was to re-open the chimney and install a log burner - our customers love how nice and cosy this makes the cafe on cold days.”

Starting the business was nerve-racking. “It was terrifying - it’s a big decision to leave a good job, invest your savings and go into the unknown. We had a business plan and we had given ourselves timescales to see a minimum revenue,” says Christophe.

“However, I had a strong belief that this kind of place would be a good addition to the village and I had a clear vision of the type of quality, food and service I wanted to provide, along with many years’ experience running pubs and restaurants, so we were quietly optimistic that it would be a success.”

The café’s homemade fare includes a mix of traditional British such as full English breakfast, to homemade burgers, salads, fish and Italian platters.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Appetising fare Appetising fare

“We offer different specials which can British or French-inspired, but other cuisines pop up too," says Christophe. "There are great sweets and bakes; specialities are the cheesecakes, scones and sticky toffee pudding. We cater to all dietary requirements and because we cook to order we can usually rustle something up.”

Christophe buys locally where he can.

“Much of our fresh food and meat comes from Robertshaws Farm Shop in Thornton. Quality is hugely important to me, and I see this reflected in the feedback we receive.”

The café serves coffee, teas and hot chocolate and is also licensed to sell a small selection of wine, beers and spirits.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: A mouth-watering cake A mouth-watering cake

“It’s cosy, friendly and relaxed, and we have lots of regulars, many who know each other and have been coming since day one - some come several times a week,” says Christophe.

The café attracts excellent reviews on TripAdvisor. “It’s great to get such feedback and to see that people appreciate what we are trying to do. It’s also an important tool that attracts new people to the café.

“There is a core menu of customer favourites all year- round and then we change it up with seasonal specials. The all-day breakfast menu is always a favourite.

"Platters and homemade Friday fish finger sandwiches, along with the daily specials and cheesecake, are also good sellers. People really enjoy our coffee too.”

He adds: “We have a fantastic team - I split my week between the kitchen as head chef and front of house as I like to oversee all aspects from food to service.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Christophe's is a popular place for friends to meetChristophe's is a popular place for friends to meet

Hedia, who has worked in hotels and corporate real estate at locations across the globe, lends her support in the background.

Says Christophe: “It’s very satisfying to see that people are happy and enjoy my food. I like the social interaction with our customers and being part of the local community.”

*Christophe’s, 381 Thornton Rd, Thornton, Bradford BD13 3JX. Christophe's has a Facebook page.