Bizalion's Fine Food
Entrepreneur comes from the French entreprendre. “It’s the adventure of launching yourself into something new” says Jean-François Bizalion of Bizalion’s Fine Food in Great Barrington. When Jean-François and his wife Helen opened their café and specialty food shop a little over ten years ago, in 2003, they were certainly embarking on a new adventure. Neither of them had ever been in the food business before, and in fact, both had made their careers in the New York City fashion world.
But for a long time, Bizalion had been drawn to Western Massachusetts and the idea of opening a general store. When Bizalion’s Fine Food eventually came together, it was as a café and specialty foods shop—a blend of his childhood in Arles and his love for New York City food emporiums such as Sahadi’s and Zabar’s. Bizalion explains, “It’s in the tradition of épiceries in France. You can find local potatoes, onions, fruit, cheese, meat, but also dates from Jordan, soap from Lebanon, Opinel knives from the Savoie. That’s the mix that we like.”
Customers seem to like it, too, and the shop has developed a loyal following. “I suppose we’ve gained the confidence of our customers,” says Bizalion. “One doesn’t want to stay close-minded when it comes to products. I think you need wide-range and diversity to make the experience more interesting for the buyer.” One of the shop’s most unique offerings is the array of olive oil that Jean-François and Helen import themselves from Catalunya, Extremadura, Tuscany, Provence, and Sicily. You can even find their olive oils in 20 other stores in the region. Bizalion’s also has exclusives on “melata” from Tuscany and a honey from the Kennebec valley of Maine.
As a child in Arles, Bizalion was always tagging along when his mother did the shopping. “I liked the flavor of vegetables and fruit and meat grown and produced in the vicinity of the town and the opportunity to have a relationship with the person you bought from.” He says that the same sensibility is alive and well in the Berkshires, and is augmented by BerkShares “I always think that behind the product we buy there are the people that make the product, and that’s a very important thing for us. BerkShares create this link even further because the people that accept it and use it have that same philosophy.”
Bizalion sees BerkShares as a “great initiative” for creating and improving the local economy. “We have been taking BerkShares since day one. Anybody who comes with BerkShares is extremely welcome in our place. We spend those BerkShares back into what we need for the store. We pay local farmers from whom we buy, for example, and we work with the stores that accept BerkShares. I also pay myself in BerkShares. Then I can go to retail shops when the kids need a new pair of shoes, or a new jacket for the ski season or we can go to a restaurant.”
Part of what Bizalion likes about the Berkshires is that they are fertile ground for entrepreneurship. “A lot of our friends are also independent artisans or contractors and we all share ideas and help each other when it comes to developing our businesses. It’s like a big think tank with people we like.” With one friend he has even hatched a plan for cooking classes taught in French and Italian, starting January 24th and payable in BerkShares, only! B$15 / class or B$120 / 10 classes.