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Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the value of shopping local has grown more and more apparent, especially in France. The country that coined the term hypermarché (big-box store) has returned to its roots. As of January 2021, 75% of consumers put “regional products” at the top of their shopping priority list, according to a report by France 3 news. Another study by AlixPartners confirmed that “friendliness is the foundation for retailers.” Serving up these two artifacts revived form another era is a new épicerie in the heart of Marseille.

Fernand et Lily combines regional goods and old-fashioned conviviality. Owner Julien Baudoin has passionately and personally selected each of the shop’s products – including Marseille-made microbrews, Provençal nougat and raw cow’s milk cheese from the Hautes-Alpes. And like a general store of yore, shopping here comes with a side of conversation. When we’re unsure of which bottle of Moulin Castelas olive oil to buy, Julien tells us about the “bright and acidic” green huile d’olive and its “more gourmand” mature black olive counterpart, even pouring us a sample on a piece of baguette to truly taste the difference.

True to the shop’s nostalgic air, Fernand et Lily is named after Julien’s grandparents. You can spot the smiling young couple in the black and white photo that hangs besides the cash register. “They were the ideal grandparents,” shares Julien, “always proud of me.” Since Fernand came from a family of merchants, his grandson vowed, “if I ever open a store, I will pay homage to him.”

Julien’s first job was in hotels, where he honed his hospitality skills. He pivoted to banking when family life required more regular hours. After two decades behind a desk, the call of bien vivre (living life to the fullest) and his longstanding desire to follow in his family’s shopkeeping footsteps pushed him to take the plunge. Plus, he even had a location when the theater café renting a Vieux-Port storefront he owned opted not to renew their lease.

Their piano stayed – available to customers to play as they peruse the bottles of beer stocked above it. And to celebrate the neighborhood’s history as one of Marseille’s oldest, Julien restored heritage details in the building where he could, removing the brown paint from the ceiling’s wooden rafters and uncovering a medieval stone wall hidden by sheet rock.

The fun part, he says, was finding the products to stock the shop. Some came by word of mouth, like the Bandol winery Domaine de l’Olivette, for which his stepfather grows grapes. Others were discovered at regional food salons, like Maison Matthieu. Immediately smitten by Stéphane’s smoked tuna, octopus and salmon, Julien visited his Marseille smokehouse to see his work up close. “I am quite relational with the artisans I work with,” Julien reveals.

At Fernand et Lily, the products helm from three areas: Provence and Marseille, Fernand’s hometown where Julien has lived for over 20 years; Nice, where Julien was born and where Fernand and Lily lived; and Champsaur, the Hautes-Alpes region where Julien grew up.

As a fellow Marseillais, Julien shares our thirst for homegrown beverages. Zoumaï’s microbrews, Distillerie de la Plaine pastis and Café Corto’s small-batch coffee line the shelves. From the city’s most northern quartier, there are jars of Abeille de l’Estaque miel (honey), whose bees buzz between romarin (rosemary) and chaitaigne (chestnut trees). Beekeeper Benoit Chanavas actually introduced Julien to BAAM, local artisanal energy bars flavored with his honey – they’re the closest thing we’ve seen to a Cliff Bar in France. One of Julien’s latest finds, Timon & Sourrieu, is a new line of Mediterranean dips – think sardine, mint and lemon and bouillabaisse and dill – perfect for Marseille’s happy hour, apéro.

The shop’s ample aperitif offerings come from all over Provence. His deli case thankfully stocks one of the last locally made poutargue, dried red-mullet eggs. The Port-du-Bouc Saveur des Calanques also crafts mélet, which is made of crushed salted anchovies, fennel and herbs. A cousin of pissaladière (a Niçoise onion, anchovy and olive medley), this Ancient Roman preservation method also reminds us of Naples’ colatura.  Curious how to cook with mélet, Julien advises us to add it to vinaigrettes or layer it in puff pastry.

He also helps us choose between anchoïaides. Holding up a jar from Délices de Margaux, he explains that “locals prefer this fishier one,” whereas Anglo-Saxons prefer Aperitif Provencal’s creamier version. In addition to this anchovy olive oil dip, both companies offer other Provence classics like aubergine (eggplant), ail (garlic) and pois-chiche (chickpea) spreads.

Fernand et Lily combines regional goods and old-fashioned conviviality. … And like a general store of yore, shopping here comes with a side of conversation.

For sweet tooths, Julien tells us that the biscuits from Biscuiterie de Rognes are so fresh they won’t break your teeth like others that sit around for months. He highlights the croquants aux amandes, Provençal almond biscotti, or the bakery’s signature olive oil biscuits with citron (lemon) or noisette (hazelnut).  Speaking of fresh, Julien sings the praises of Confiserie Fouque, a heritage, family-run candy maker who “only makes their nougat between September and December.” He slices us samples of the nougat noir (honey and roasted almonds) and nougat blanc (egg white, honey and toasted almonds). Both are so deliciously tender that we’ll definitely be picking up the bars for the “thirteen desserts,” a Provençal Christmas tradition.

Then Julien takes a walk down memory lane when he speaks about Champsaur foodstuffs. “This farm used to deliver us bottles of milk when I was a kid,” he smiles, pointing out the Ferme de la Tuillerie raw cow’s milk cheese in the deli case. The rustic sausages beside it and the nearby jars of terrine are made by the Ferme Drouhot, “whose pigs are patients of my veterinarian father.” Sometimes, when Julien fetches the products from his childhood home, he’ll bring back a tarte des alpes, the region’s famous lattice fruit jam pie. The owner’s birthplace, Nice, is represented by different types of socca. Choose from picnic-friendly socca chips or nifty, DIY bottles, in which you just add water to make the olive oil and chickpea flour pancakes at home.

Open since June 2021, Fernand et Lily’s clients include a mix of neighborhood residents, locals and travelers passing through the Vieux-Port. “Many of our customers have stumbled across us by accident,” shares Julien. On our end, we might not have ventured in, prejudiced by certain Vieux-Port addresses with mediocre quality goods geared for tourists. But when our favorite bar next door, La Caravelle, recommended the épicerie, we couldn’t resist.

Two retirees who met while shopping here have become good friends. “I’m delighted this has become a meeting place, too,” beams Julien. He’ll happily slice up a seeded Pain Salvator baguette and sausage or open a jar of tapenade if a customer wants to enjoy a snack in-house. As long as you order food, you’re welcome to order a beer or wine too.

Clients used to be able to linger on the parking-space patio out front, an initiative the city set up to increase outdoor dining during the pandemic. Now that the temporary terrasses are banned, Julien is waiting for his permanent patio permit to be approved. In the meantime, you’re welcome to munch at the lone table inside or snack around the deli case. For it’s all about sharing here.

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