A petit bit of France comes to Kirkwood

When Marchet Sparks visited France in 2004, traveling extensively throughout the southern Provençal region then up to Paris and Normandy, she was charmed by little markets with freshly prepared foods and local goods that dotted throughout the countryside. A busy real estate executive working out of her native Los Angeles at the time, she decided that one day she would like to own a small neighborhood cafe such as those sprinkled throughout France.

Four years later, the opportunity presented itself and Sparks opened Le Petit Marche on Hosea Williams Drive in the rapidly developing east Atlanta neighborhood of Kirkwood. She called choosing Kirkwood as a location for her business “a no-brainer.”

“Its downtown had tons of potential, several long-standing businesses, a committed and active neighbors’ organization. The complexion of the community was and still is so incredibly diverse that the decision to invest my livelihood came easy. I knew Kirkwood would support the business so long as I listened to and addressed their needs,” she said.

Even so, it wasn’t all smooth sledding from the start. “Like any other business, we had to earn our stripes,” she recalled. “It was downright treacherous at first as we had to figure out what exactly the neighborhood wanted and implement the necessary changes before going broke.

“In the beginning, we were definitely considered a market, full of fresh breads, pestos, foreign and domestic cheeses—the whole nine. We only had three tables, a heavy focus on market fare and a small sandwich counter. Our hours were 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.,” she said.

Although the name Le Petit Marche means the little market, Sparks quickly learned that her customers wanted an eatery more than a food shop. “Ten months after we opened we were on the fast track toward going out of business because the model in place wasn’t what the neighborhood needed. As we learned more about the needs of our customers, the focus shifted more to prepared foods. Our small menu of lunch sandwiches and salads seemed to draw people in so we scaled back on the retail, promoted the prepared foods, rolled out breakfast, changed our hours to 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., added 12 more tables and then held our breath. Now, more than four years later, the little market has gone viral and has become a breakfast and lunch destination.”

Customers, she said, “are a mix of neighbors and newcomers from all over the city—young, old, gay, straight; all ethnicities are here. We love our four-legged friends too.”

Sparks said Le Petit Marche does a brisk breakfast and lunch business during the week, but its busiest days are Saturdays and Sundays. “On the popular website Yelp, we are ranked in the top three breakfast destinations in the city of Atlanta so we get a good influx of new business along with our regulars each weekend. We’re also very active caterers and host events both on and offsite after hours,” she added.

Like the French markets that inspired it, Le Petit Marche features many local food items. Sparks said, “I love the spring, summer and fall festivals around town and have picked up several vendors by attending. Sometimes, I’m approached by local purveyors who’ve heard about the shop and wish to have us carry their products. I’ve also visited other stores around town or while traveling and will pick up an item here and there. Of course, there’s always the internet to help fill in the blanks.”

She said that Kirkwood honey is a favorite when it’s in season and Just Add Honey teas, organic peanut butter and cookie mixes are big sellers. Sparks recommends the imported French orange honey, saying it’s “divine when paired with a mandarin and cherry compote, a mild brie then spread over crostini—definitely a crowd pleaser. Mom’s soups are legendary in these parts and the blistering outdoor heat makes no difference. Seafood chowder, sweet ginger chicken and thai shrimp are some house faves.”

Sparks said the atmosphere is another reason to drop by. “My dad, a retiree, affectionately known as ‘Pop,’ is always on deck to tell a funny story and greet customers with the sweetest smile on earth.”

From a somewhat shaky start, Le Petit Marche has “grown exponentially,” said Sparks, adding that her plans call for expanding to a larger location across the street. “That’s scheduled to take place early next spring,” she said. “We’ll be adding more menu items and about 25 more seats. Soon, there will be more of us to love.”

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