A taste of Bô Kay Max

Also known as “Chez Max” and “Spécialités Antillaises Ménilmontant”, this third-generation West Indian épicerie-traiteur has been a reference since 1960

At 14-16 boulevard de Belleville, under leafless sophoras in this month of January, two oversized yellow and green signs bring a ray of sunshine: “Spécialités Antillaises Ménilmontant”. Inside this shop, a little Caribbean music, baskets of tropical fruits – pineapples, citrus fruits, passion fruits, bananas, mangoes – and the smell of spices and coconut pastries make you forget the gray winter.

Welcome to Max’s, or “Bô Kay Max” in creole. One of the first West Indian stores in Paris, it was founded by a French butcher in 1960, and then taken over by Max Aratus, a Martinican. Today, his son Cédric Aratus and a Norman, Bruno Duval, manage the épicerie-traiteur together. They explain that the founder, “Monsieur Jean”, was a “metropolitan” who ran a traditional French butcher shop at this location. When there was a massive wave of West Indian immigration to metropolitan France in the 1960s, he found himself with many West Indian customers.

“The West Indians would buy pig’s blood from him to make their own West Indian boudin sausages. This intrigued Monsieur Jean, and he started making West Indian boudin and selling West Indian products,” Cédric explains. “At the time, my father [Max], who had come from Martinique in the 1970s, was selling West Indian products at markets on weekends in addition to his work. And Monsieur Jean would come to buy goods from him. He saw that my father was serious and a hard worker, so he hired him to develop his offer of West Indian products.”

The butcher shop then also became an épicerie (food store), selling fruits and vegetables – taros, yams, sweet potatoes and chayotes – and other products – couac, manioc flour, cinnamon, bay rum leaves, Colombo (West Indian curry) powder and chilis. Later, the shop also became a traiteur, offering take-away dishes – Colombo or creole-style stews, cod rougail or chiquetaille, queen conch fricasse – and pastries – savory pâtés or sweet ones filled with fruits, cakes – and it was finally expanded to include a restaurant, at 14 boulevard de Belleville. When Max took over in 1987, the business was known among its customers as “Chez Max”.

Around that time, Bruno began frequenting the store with his wife, who is of West Indian origin. “We were customers, and I was really friendly with Max and everyone here. In 2010, I was a manager in a brasserie, and Cédric called me and said ‘I’m taking over my father’s business but I want to do it with you,’” Bruno remembers. The self-described “food nut”, who has been working in the restaurant business since he was 15 years-old, jumped at the chance.

“Bruno has a love for the West Indies. We’ve worked together for more than 10 years and it’s going well,” Cédric says, noting one recent change: “We closed the restaurant part during Covid, and we’re going to do some renovation work. We’re thinking about whether we want to reopen the restaurant.” Meanwhile, they’re developing their range of homemade spices, chili pastes, ice creams and sorbets – mango, guava, maracudja, coconut, peanut – and homemade rum punches – planter, passion, ginger, coconut, pineappleunder their new name, Bô Kay Max. And they’re expanding online, with an e-commerce website set to launch this spring.

“The West Indian community is less present today and buys differently,” Bruno explains. “Before, we used to sell raw products because people did their own cooking, especially at Christmas. That clientele has aged and often retired to the West Indies. Their children do less cooking and buy more finished products. Before, the catering part represented 50% of our sales, now it’s 95%. At Christmas, we used to sell 5,000 liters of blood to make boudin, and this year we sold 400 liters at most. While we have fewer West Indian clients, we’ve attracted a lot of European clients who know the West Indies thanks to their vacations. We also have a young European clientele in the neighborhood, which has become a bit ‘bobo,’” says Bruno, a resident of the Jourdain neighborhood for over 30 years.

Today, the products they sell the most are the accras, boudin, mont-blanc coconut cake and punches. After three generations, their reference point hasn’t changed, Bruno emphasizes, “We’ve stayed with West Indian tradition, and that’s what people are looking for in the end!”

Bô Kay Max
16 boulevard de Belleville
Métro Ménilmontant
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