Bienvenue A Café Alsace

How Benedicte Cooper’s dream of France in Decatur is changing lives

Benedicte Ulsas Cooper still thinks about the $100 bill at the bottom of that money jar. The gesture moves her – still. The money was left by a customer as the world was squaring off against the coronavirus. The gesture showed what her restaurant, Café Alsace, meant to the community at large. Nobody knew what lay ahead, especially for the service industry, where owners like Benedicte made their living interacting among guests they viewed as family.

Benedicte didn’t want to take the money. And then, before she knew it, there were other donations. More people started contributing what they could to help out. In a gesture that runs as deep as the 27-plus years she has built with the Decatur community, she used the cash to make meals for local people on the front lines of the virus.

The message was clear: Café Alsace and Decatur are intertwined in a way most businesses only dream of. “It reminded me of why I started the restaurant here. So many people have told me over the years how much Café Alsace didn’t remind them of a restaurant, but of a home. I have always approached it like I was opening my home to them. We need people, and they need us.”

Café Alsace is not your typical restaurant because Benedicte is not your typical restaurant owner. The business model works because she is able to balance her time between being the chef and the hostess. Having a meal means you will see her interacting with guests – them discussing all things that life puts in front of them, and her getting to watch them enjoy her food. “I love the flexibility. I love that I can spend half my time in the kitchen and the other half with my guests. That is rare, but it was a priority for me.”

It was the opportunity Benedicte knew she couldn’t have in France. The opportunity she fell in love with after spending three summers on a work visa working in and out of the metro Atlanta area. Serving ice cream in a food truck. Working as a waitress at a French restaurant. Managing the former Decatur restaurant, St. Agnes Tea Room, where a customer approached her about taking over a small restaurant space in the heart of Decatur. “I really didn’t have a plan. Once I moved here for good in 1995, I knew my professional life was over in France. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to open my own business or go to work for a corporation in the US.”

The restaurant would later become Café Alsace – one that was unlike any of the other snobbish, upscale French eateries she had visited and more like the ones in her hometown of Colmar. In 1997, Benedicte Ulsas Cooper became an entrepreneur, giving what she says until this day is 200% of her time – a family trait. The menu, which allows two people to dine for anywhere between $30 and $200, features soups, salads, quiche, cassoulet, bouillabaisse, boeuf bourguignon, Coq au Vin, and more.

“All these years later, I am still not bored. I love it, and I love the people and community. What I do is a huge privilege.”


Café Alsace

121 E Ponce de Leon Ave


Decatur Rapid Fire…
Benedicte Ulsas Cooper
Café Alsace

Biggest influence?
Other than my parents, I would say my best friend and my English teacher, who after college, pushed me to get a summer job in the USA because they knew “I would love it.”

Three traits every leader should have?
Be passionate about what you are doing, be resilient and be strong.

What book are you reading now?
“American Dirt” by Jeannine Cummins. I put it on the side because I love to read (good) books in one day, non stop. It’s on my “to-do list” during my next vacation.

What are you binge watching?
Finished “The Bear” and “Emily in Paris” (predictable). Watching now “This is Us” and loving it.

Who is the artist you cannot take off your playlist?
Alain Bashung (French 1947-2009). His album, Fantaisie Militaire (1998), is my favorite. It was released right after I opened Café Alsace. We used to play it all the time. It reminds me of the first spring of the Café.

Biggest thing on your bucket list?
See an owl in nature. I hear them all the time from my house, but don’t seem to be able to see one. And I want to see a lavender field in bloom. I’m always too late in the summer when I’m in Provence. They are simple treasures of mother nature for me.

Favorite Decatur spot?
Kudzu Antique. My house and the Café are filled with French treasures I have found there. I have found a few things from the Alsace region, too. And I love Squash Blossom. My closets are filled with great pics.

The first place every newcomer to Decatur should visit first?
Café Alsace, bien sur. Some customers have actually told me that they moved here because I convinced them to. The DeKalb Farmers Market is a must. I cannot live without it.

The best thing a customer ever said to you?
“Cafe Alsace doesn’t seem like a restaurant. It feels like you are opening your French home to us.”

What’s your favorite quote?
All the quotes possible from “The Little Prince from Antoine de Saint Exupery,” which is my favorite book. One of them is actually on the Café’s walls. My all-time favorite is, “The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched. They are felt with the heart”

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