The first-time Ruth came across French fabric was during one of her first trips to Paris. Young Ruth was strolling in the quaint streets of Montmartre, occupied at that time by tiny fabric stores and sewing workshops. She laid her eyes on the beautiful draperies and couldn’t resist buying a few. Back home, she had her mother sew the hems. Her life-long love affair with French jacquards and market cottons was born.
American-born Ruth Aspinall and her Canadian husband moved to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, in the early 90s in search of a less stressful and more pleasurable lifestyle. Once settled, they opened a European-flair restaurant on the main street that they called “The Epicurean”. With a typical Provençal décor (blue and yellow walls with terracotta tiles) the restaurant style clashed with the locals’ taste at first… But a few years later, it became a trendy hotspot for tourists and locals alike.
With the restaurant business in full swing, Ruth started to think of ways to share her love for French tablecloths and kitchen accents with her international clientele. She set up a small space in the back of the restaurant and started to sell French mustards, jams, pottery and table linens. The little side venture was an instant hit.
What started as a few retails shelves in the back of a restaurant grew into a profitable business. Quickly, she opened her very own “Little French Shoppe”, a few doors down the street.
Entering “The Little French Shoppe” is an instant mood-booster. The piles of linens, tablecloths and napkins burst with vibrant colours and peppy patterns. On one side, French jacquards linens display vibrant colour blocks with sophisticated patterns woven into the heavy fabric. On the other side, market cotton tablecloths adorn the distinctive Provençal prints of olives and flowers. These signature styles of linens, usually found in French market stalls, are today the stars of Ruth’s Canadian store.
Ruth’s business is a true labor of love and a dedication to authentic French linens. She goes to France at least twice a year to curate and purchase new fabrics. In January, after a stop at the Frankfurt fair, she goes to meet with Paris textile manufacturers and place orders. She then usually takes a trip down South, where she likes to venture off-of-the-beaten-path to unearth small pottery artisans. In September, she goes to the world-renowned Maison & Objet fair in Paris – the mecca for all the professionals of the “Art of Living”.
If we were in France, Ruth’s shop would be just another beautiful linen store. But in Canada, it is a real wonder to see her impressive French collection. Even more, when you consider that table accents and the “Art de la table” in general is a far more obscure concept here in Niagara. Spending 4 hours to prepare a meal and set up a table, or sitting around 5 hours after the meal is a cherished ritual for the French, but not so understandable for many Canadians.
Surely, bringing this Art de La Table feature to the heart of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, was a daring move. But this passionate woman has managed to do it brilliantly, and admirably plays her part in keeping a little piece of French eating artistry alive here in Canada.
When it comes to getting ready to eat, I like to think that linens and napkins alike will do more than simply dress a table nicely. They will set the mood.
A table that looks good lures you in, even before the food is on the table. And it makes you want to stay around, even after the food has left the table. A colour accent, a sophisticated frill or a simple protection for your table – whatever you make of it – a tablecloth is another way to make you feel more at ease around a table. All this likely means you will appreciate your food more, possibly have greater discussions and enjoy yourself more.
And that my friends, is L’Art de la Table.
Visit The Little French Shoppe in Niagara-on-the-Lake (and go say hi to Ruth!) at 106 Queen Street.