Germain Michel, a French immigrant, came to the United States in 2003. Germain has worked in restaurants since he was a kid, so after settling in San Francisco, he picked up where he left off. While working in San Francisco’s restaurant scene, he noticed a gap in the market for a European-inspired wine bar, so he decided to open one.
“The wine bars here were kind of boring and quiet,” he said about San Francisco’s wine bars before Amélie burst onto the scene in 2006. Germain’s vision was a lively wine bar with a French flair, where people could have a good time and enjoy good wine.
Amélie, he says, was one of the first wine bars of its kind in the area. Germain took his passion for the hospitality industry and ran with it; now as the owner of five restaurants in San Francisco and New York City. Germain and his business partner are currently planning to open up a sixth restaurant in Marin County. After 14 years and almost six restaurants later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and things slowed to a near halt.
Germain’s restaurants are more than just his livelihood, running his businesses are his purpose. “I had a routine before,” he remarks about the way things used to be. Running five, almost six restaurants keeps him busy as ever, and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Germain has been experiencing immense ups and downs. “Some days my mindset is good and sometimes it’s not,” he says. The pandemic has changed him both professionally and personally. Not only has the shutdown of his restaurants impacted him financially, but he admits to feeling useless without the chance to run his normal business operations.
With restaurants having to rely on take-out and delivery to survive, Germain was faced with a decision. Germain is a firm believer in keeping things as authentically European as possible, saying “I’ve never done take-out in my life.” Amélie is a wine bar where people come for an experience, and Germain believed that take-out orders cheapen that dining experience. In Europe, dining at a restaurant is more than just ordering a meal. You can expect a buzz of social activity, excellent service, and indulgent ambiance; Amélie aligns with all of these notions. Amélie offers the total dining experience which was lost due to its closing. But, Germain decided to offer take-out for one very important reason: to keep his employees working during the pandemic.
The closing of restaurants nationwide has left so many foodservice workers without jobs. But, Germain wanted to keep his long-faithful employees afloat, so he did something unprecedented. Adapting to the new normal, Germain decided to open Amélie for take-out orders to continue supporting his employees during uncertain times.
Strengthened by its loyal regular customers, Amélie has seen a wave of encouragement from the community as orders keep rolling in. Customers are happy to get take-out from their favorite wine bar.
As things evolve, Germain stays cautiously optimistic. While he believes the restaurant industry will be changed forever, he also has faith that the social aspect of his restaurant’s culture will return. “Restaurants are more important than we think. You can talk to strangers or meet a lover,” he reflects, “I don’t want to go to a restaurant with a plastic partition between me and someone else.” Germain believes restaurants produce value in society for social interaction, fun, and new experiences. Food and wine bring people together, and he hopes that one day soon Amélie will continue bringing family and friends together for a good time.