“Ex-engineer, I am world champion of authentic fries”

Aurèle Mestré dans sa friterie installée dans le quartier de Wazemmes, à Lille.

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Published on Nov. 19, 2023 at 7:08 a.m.

“Once I completed my master's degree at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes d'Ingénieur in Lille in 2015, I sent my CV to the motorsport sector. When I was little, I went karting competitively. Due to lack of means, I was not able to try to realize my dream: to become a racing driver. So, I hope at least to find a job related to motorsport… Without success!

To enter working life, I therefore seize the first opportunity that presents itself, the one offered to me following my end-of-study internship. I was then recruited on a permanent contract as a metalwork project manager in construction, in an SME specializing in locksmithing. I am 25 years old and my job consists of supporting clients – companies or public organizations – from ordering to product delivery. I do plans, drawings, structural calculations, quality control… The job is interesting, but I don't see myself making a career in that. Particularly because we work with public markets, which makes the processes very long. Too long for my taste.

After two years in this position, I changed sectors to work in industry. I became a project manager at Chromalox, a company which manufactures parts for the oil and nuclear industry, on a site in Soissons, in Aisne. These industries are very standardized, and as a result, I spend most of my time negotiating contractual points with clients. I'm frustrated with all these procedures, the documentation, I don't feel like I'm doing anything concrete.

Resign without having a specific project in mind

I also have the feeling that my temperament is not made for the business world. More cash-driven by nature, I tend to say when something seems bad to me, to move the project, the company, the team forward in the right direction. Except that in business, I rather have the feeling that to hope to move up, it is better to keep quiet and go with the wind.

I have reached a stage where I am so unfulfilled in my job that I am resigning in December 2021, failing to obtain a conventional termination. When I leave the company, I have no plan in mind, other than returning to live in Lille, the city where I studied after growing up in Laon, in Aisne.

Very quickly the idea of ​​setting up my own business was born. Because I hate looking for work, but also because I want to have decision-making power over my organization, my working time, my tasks, something I didn't have until now.

But then, what to do? Without a huge budget, the possibilities are limited. As I love cooking and eating, I quite naturally think of opening a restaurant. I kind of see what that entails because I did a little job in a pizza kiosk when I was in high school.

In Lille, I find that there is a lack of nice ‘dining bars', with good value for money dishes. I started looking for premises to rent in Old Lille but I realized that financially, it was not going to be tenable because the rents were too high.

Nine months of work

I move out of the center and end up visiting a premises in Wazemmes, a rather popular district of Lille, which is gentrifying. Well located at the intersection of two busy streets, the premises are very bright, they can accommodate around thirty seats but the kitchen is small. It is therefore not possible to make dishes that require a lot of preparation. I tell myself : “Why not open a chip shop? » At least it doesn't require too much space on the kitchen side.

I gathered my savings, called on friends who lent me money to increase my contribution, and obtained a loan of 100,000 Pounds from a bank to cover the equipment and the work, which I carried out myself.

I am signing the lease in December 2021. Some people around me are perplexed: why did you leave the stability of a permanent contract, a gainful job, to launch an uncertain project, which will perhaps fail? I don't take these kinds of comments into account.

In parallel with the work, I draw inspiration from what works among other restaurateurs, I also think about what is going wrong, I test recipes…

After nine months of work – which was initially supposed to last three – it's time for the opening of the chip shop that bears my name, in September 2022. The first days are laborious… The dishes take too long to come out of the kitchen, some are not perfect… It must be said that it is a total improvisation! Before opening, I didn't even have time to test the fryers because of a problem with the gas connection.

Fortunately, I quickly got the hang of it and after two weeks, things started to work. A la carte: fries, of course, cooked twice: the first time in sunflower oil, and the second in beef fat, to have fries that are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, and quite light. All made from potatoes grown around twenty kilometers from Lille. Also on the menu: breaded chicken fillets (raised in the region), homemade croquettes, sausages from a local producer… And dishes that change according to the seasons, made from our flagship products. The choices are limited, because everything is fresh and homemade.

Five employees

Since I opened this restaurant, my daily life has nothing to do with my life before. I work almost every day. Even when I close, on Sunday evening and Monday, I have to restock, manage the invoices… it's the game, I'm not complaining! I know that over time, once the business grows, I will be able to delegate and have more time for myself.

For now, I pay myself a salary that is enough to cover my living needs. I prefer the company to grow and be strong. By my side now, five employees, not all full-time, at the cash register and in the kitchen. Recruitment is actually the most complicated part of my business. Difficult to find the right CVs. And then, to bring them in. I once offered a contract to a candidate and then no longer heard from him on the day he was supposed to take up his position…

Open new establishments

A few months after my opening, I was contacted on Instagram by the organizers of the English Fry World Championship, offering me the opportunity to participate in the first edition, which would take place in October 2023 in Arras, in Pas-de-Calais. . A one-day event during which 31 candidates compete in four categories.

I accepted and participated by making the same recipe as the one I offer in my restaurant… And I emerged victorious in the “authentic fries” category, against seven other catering professionals. A great recognition!

Since then, there has been excitement. The chip shop was already successful but now, some people queue for more than an hour to eat our fries. So much so that we can't serve everyone… During certain services, we serve twice as many customers as before.

This victory gives a boost to my projects. My goal: to open other points of sale in the Lille metropolitan area in the years to come and eventually, why not create a franchise, an idea that I had in mind from the start. This price gives me credibility, and should help me take out new loans.

What fulfills me the most in my life as an entrepreneur? Succeed in creating something concrete and making people happy with what we serve them. Perhaps the most gratifying is when customers say that this title of ‘World Champion' is deserved. »

To note

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